Less than four years after they married, Sara Hirst was forced to deal in a very public way, with the news that her husband Keegan was gay. And although her world, and that of her young family, was turned upside down she wants to help others through a shared experience.
It is only eight months since Keegan Hirst, the Batley Bulldogs star, publicly announced that he was gay. He became the first active professional rugby league player to do so.
His former wife, Sara, has spoken to Outnews Global in support of her former partner and what she has been through since his revelation.
“He told me in late July and it was only a few weeks later that it became headline news. I don’t think that I had long enough to come to terms with it and fully understand before the whole world knew. That was hard,” she says.
And whilst Keegan has received widespread praise for his courage, the spouses and family are often left behind dealing with profound feelings of confusion and pain. Sara found that there was little attention focused on the repercussions of his coming out on herself and their children.
“When somebody questions their sexuality, there are quite a lot of charities and helplines that they can get support from. In my situation there was nothing, or very little. Seven months on somebody stumbled across Keegan’s article and made contact with me through twitter.
“Actually, it’s quite a common thing to happen but not really talked about. At the time you think you are the only one going through this. Since then I’ve been in contact with other people in similar situations.”
While she did eventually find some support online, Sara is now hoping that by being open about her experience she can encourage others to speak out too.
“Of course, there were times when I’ve felt angry and thought ‘thanks for turning my world upside down’. But I have no regrets about the years we shared and we have two beautiful children from that marriage.”
Keegan has gone on to use his profile as captain of the Batley Bulldogs to tackle the issue of homophobia in sports.
Now Sara believes, she too, has a role to play, even though the pain of their split is still evident.
“One thing I am sure of now, is that in today’s world of a growing acceptance of equality, is that I want to ensure that our children’s generation don’t have to go through this torment, this denial of true feelings. You have to be honest with yourself and your partner.
“Thankfully I had a lot of support from friends and family. I don’t think I would have been able to get through it, quite as well as I did, without that support.”
For those who don’t have that support network Sara hopes that she might be able to help.
“There just isn’t anything in the way of advice for the other partner. In this instance someone’s sexuality does affect other people. We are adults but when there’s kids involved, where do they go to get support?”
Sara accepts that we live in a society where prejudice still exists and encourages others to come out and be true to themselves.
“I want to help those people who are struggling with their decision to come out too. Whether that be to listen and support or just to help them be out and proud and to change society’s attitudes in a hope that we can just be ourselves without judgement.
“I hope that by sharing my story I can be a voice of support to others. If I can help just one more family going through this then I am happy. There is something positive to come out of this for all of us.”
Sara does not regard any part of her marriage as wasted time, saying it has made them both the people they are today. She will continue to use her voice to campaign for a recognised UK wide network of support for the families of a LGBT partner.