UK
12/02/2016 11:08 GMT | Updated 12/02/2016 14:59 GMT

Keegan Hirst, Rugby League Player, Says Tyson Fury's Views Show How Far LGBT Attitutes Have To Go

Bouncing into the room at over 6ft 3, Keegan Hirst is not just tall, he's broad. He certainly doesn't step with caution as he brushes the commercial banner we meet at during an LGBT in sport conference in London's financial centre.

Last year, at the age of 27 he became an icon for Rugby League when he came out as gay. Starting his career at Bradford Bulls academy, he now plays for the Batley Bulldogs, in the centre of Yorkshires heartland.

Inside his tough exterior is a very real mental health issue, previously admitting to having suicidal thoughts whilst conflicted with his sexuality.

"I never felt like I had anybody to talk to," he tells The Huffington Post UK, reflecting on the past. "It's easy to jump on a phone now or even an internet chat room, if I was to give advice to anyone now, i'd say talk to someone and get it of your chest, because bottling it up, it starts going on in your head then.

"If you're talking to people and you're communicating then it will help everything and obviously if you enjoy playing sport then keep playing whatever it is whether it's rugby league or tiddlywinks, just keep playing."

keegan hirst

Batley Bulldog's Keegan Hirst during the Championship Shield Super 8's match Vs Dewsbury Rams

The Yorkshireman's struggles with sexuality saw him marry and become the father of two children, despite realising he was gay at age 15.

But throughout facing internal conflicts, he's been met with acceptance on the field and tells HuffPost UK he's not had experienced any homophobia in the sport.

He talks frankly about his game, describing it as "trapped in the M62", but is full of optimism when talking about its chances of progressing for equality.

"If people are gay and they come out it kind of normalises it and it becomes a non-issue. Obviously the first person who does it is always going to be a bit of an issue, like the first person to walk on the moon. But then three people later have been on the moon and no one's bothered anymore. The more people that do it the better it is and that's now it progresses."

The former builder also touched upon controversy within the industry, with fellow Rugby League star Kevin Sinfield nominated alongside 'homophobic' Tyson Fury in the BBC Sports Personality Of The Year (SPOTY) awards.

Heavyweight champion Fury had previously compared homosexuality to paedophillia.

"I think SPOTY is about sports and it's about personality whether you agree with them or not. I think when people like Tyson Fury say things like they have said then it's not my job to say whether they should be in SPOTY.

"But it just goes to show how far peoples attitudes actually have to go. If that's how he [Fury] feels then there's still work for the governing bodies of sport and the BBC to do, to help change people like Tyson Fury's opinion on LGBT people."

The former builder is humble in his sports progression and appears at the conference, held during LGBT history month, to focus on how sport can foster a more inclusive environment.

"I think it's easy for me to say oh yeah come out it's brilliant, but until a person is ready to come out - you cant say you can't come out or don't come out, it's when they feel totally comfortable with it, so I think they just need to feel comfortable with themselves and that environment that it will be alright.

"But maybe they already are all out, you don't know do you, I think it's progressing- obviously Gareth Thomas came out first then obviously I came out and it's normalising it, and I think eventually you get to a point where if another Rugby League, Rugby Union player comes out then someone's already done it so it's like yeah thats fine, it's cool."

Hirst is then taken away to sit on a panel alongside Olympic boxing champion Nicola Adams, and England footballer Casey Stoney. He jokes that no one would dare to be homophobic towards him, "have you seen me? I'm not exactly a small lad" he tells the floor.