02/12/2013 12:23 GMT | Updated 01/02/2014 05:59 GMT

'I'm Still Tom': Why Tom Daley's Coming Out Video Is the Perfect Rebuttal to Russian Olympic Bigotry

"I'm dating a guy and I couldn't be happier," says 19-year-old British Olympic diver Tom Daley. If it's not quite true that nobody saw it coming, nobody saw it coming today. Daley's 'Something I want to say...' video, posted this morning, was the coming-out equivalent of David Bowie's new single launch at the beginning of the year - no hype, no teasers, just a link on Twitter and there it was.

Tom having a boyfriend is big news because millions of us care about him as a public personality. But, in the sense that same-sex relationships are no longer inherently scandalising, Tom also expressed his hope that it's not "a big deal".

What's most heartening about the public response is that the UK seems to agree. That's good for Tom. It's good for us. And it's good for the world - especially when discussion of the Olympics and LGBT identity is currently dominated by Russian lawmakers' repeatedinsistence ahead of next year's Winter Olympics at Sochi that the mere acknowledgement of being gay is an act of political propaganda.

I'm not, by and large, a patriotic sort. But the huge outpouring of support that has greeted Daley's simple statement has made me proud to be British today. That's partly because it shows how firmly recognition of and respect for LGBT people's basic humanity and dignity has taken root in mainstream society. And it's partly because it shows how our culture is able to apply its most traditional values to progressive as well as conservative ends: the two words that keep jumping out at me when I read the comments under Tom's video are 'bravery' and 'pride'. (Not that there hasn't been a fair bit of homophobia too, of course.)

Part of the reason we love Tom is that we feel we know him. There are all sorts of things about today's video that suggest everyday informality: his casual top and stubble, his use of "you guys" and his handheld camera, which he apparently points at himself as he sits up in bed. It's an appropriate format for a message about personal issues that asks for personal understanding.

Yet the video is also a tightly crafted piece of rhetoric that deftly interweaves public and private concerns. Tom starts by reminding us of his public story - its lows (his father's death), its highs (his Olympic medal), its ordinariness (his A-levels) - and of how he's tried to balance a public and a private life. He explains how his main motivation for revealing that he has a boyfriend was being "misquoted in an interview" (perhaps this one in the Mirror three months ago?). And he offers pre-emptive answers to several anticipated questions. Is the fact of his public profile an invitation to speculation about his private life? Has he been disingenuous about his sexuality in the past? What would his dad say? What do his family think?

The message Tom presents here takes its power from what he tells us about his emotions. Being misquoted about his sexuality "made me feel really angry and frustrated" while his boyfriend "make[s] me feel so happy, so safe, and everything just feels great". Apart from a vague reference to "an ideal world" in which such announcements would be pointless, there's no overtly campaigning content here. Tom never even uses the word 'gay'. (Or, for that matter, 'bisexual'. Perhaps the video's only dud moment comes when he says "of course, I still fancy girls" - even if it's true, why "of course"?)

The overall point underlying the video is that, when it comes to sexuality, it's not easy to distinguish public from private. In fact, to attempt it is in many ways a nonsense.

That's why Tom's message does, after all, have political implications. It asserts that his being in a same-sex relationship does not disqualify him from his place within his family, his society or his nation's sporting endeavours. His close family and friends have been "so supportive", he says, and "I still want to win a gold medal at Rio 2016 for Great Britain. I'm still as motivated as ever to do that and it would be great to have you guys on that journey too."

The Union Jack pillows against which he reclines underline the point: I'm as British as anyone, and if you don't want to join me on my adventure, it's your loss.

The basic message is "I'm still Tom." This is the irreducible truth that any teenager struggling to acknowledge their LGBT status to themselves, their loved ones and their community must hold onto the hardest. Sexuality is not a choice. It is a very deep part of who you are - a source of confusion, shame, anger, frustration, happiness, bravery and pride. To acknowledge this reality is not an act of propaganda or partisan political action but an instance of that other cardinal British characteristic: common sense.

There's one more traditional British value that comes to the fore here: the love of fair play. If we can combine all these values into loud public support for a young male Olympian who happens to be into guys - and, by implication, all those like him who face discrimination and worse at Sochi and beyond - that would really be something to be proud of, medals or no medals.

And if judiciously selected soft furnishings have their part to play, so much the better.