Racing Is Everyone’s Sport blog: Ellen and Liam on the importance of allies

Features | 9th December 2021

Racing With Pride member Ellen Lincoln and her ally Liam Gayfer talk about the importance of allies for LGBT+ inclusion in the sport.

 Racing Is Everyone’s Sport, British racing’s annual campaign run in tandem with Stonewall‘s Rainbow Laces, is covering the importance of allies to the LGBT+ community. 

Racing With Pride member Ellen Lincoln and her ally Liam Gayfer share their reflections on how allies are crucial to growing acceptance and LGBT+ inclusivity in the sport.

Ellen Lincoln

Please introduce yourself 

I’m a full-time equine nutritionist for a local feed company and I’m doing a master’s degree in Equine Science. I also help out at a local point-to-point yard so busy in the equine world which I love.

How did you first get into racing?

It first started at university where I didn’t enjoy the course I was doing at the time. After getting advice to try something out of my comfort zone, I decided to work in racing for a spell so I did two months working with Sir Mark Prescott.

I had no experience of working with racehorses and had never even been to the races. I was riding out four lots within four days of being there! I led up a winner for them and rode work regularly before I left.

It was a whirlwind, whistle stop tour of everything in racing. I’ve been absolutely hooked ever since.

What’s your journey been like to get to the place you are today with your sexual identity?

I knew there was something a little bit different about me growing up. I came out in high school; it wasn’t very well received because everyone was young and a bit naive. It’s easy to pick on someone that’s different.

I then went back into the closet and I didn’t properly come out again until I was 18 and met my partner Katie who I’m still with now. I’ve been out and proud ever since.

How important is it to have strong and visible allies in life and at work?

It’s really important. I’ve struggled with friendships. I had a good friendship group through high school and college, and then when I came out I think they realised it wasn’t just a phase. They all slowly drifted away. They didn’t know how to talk to me and they didn’t know what to say.

It wasn’t until I met people that were a bit older or people with other gay friends who were more accepting. Since those tougher spells at school or university I haven’t really had too many issues.

In what ways do your allies help support you?

It’s nice and comforting to have that friend there that gets me and doesn’t judge me. My ally Liam Gayfer, who is a straight man, is very relaxed about it all and doesn’t care if a person is LGBT+ or not LGBT+.

It’s great to have that sort of person close to you, especially having had bad experiences in the past. Almost the first time I met Liam, I said ‘I’m gay, this is who I am’, it was a like it or lump it sort of attitude and Liam never made a thing of it and never treated me differently. It’s nice to feel normal and have that normal friendship.

How welcome have you been made to feel in a working environment in the sport?

When I was working at Sir Mark Prescott’s yard, they were brilliant and no one cared about my sexuality. There wasn’t really an issue.

At another place working with racehorses. The team was great to a point but sometimes there was that racing ‘banter’ that sometimes crossed a line into being slightly offensive. There were a few moments where I didn’t know if they were joking or being serious. Some people were more comfortable being around me than others, I think.

In my current job, I’m the youngest. They’ve been really accepting of me but I wasn’t as comfortable coming out due to the potential generational difference.

Racing Is Everyone's Sport. Jockeys' sporting rainbow armbands. The importance of allies
Jockeys sporting Rainbow armbands to spread the message that Racing Is Everyone's Sport

What have your experiences been like when you’ve gone to the races?

As me and my partner Katie look quite alike, people often think that we’re sisters and sometimes it’s easier to go along with that. If for example it’s quite a rowdy bunch of young men that are hitting on us, it’s easier to say we’re sisters or we’re friends than to say we’re together just in fear of what that might escalate into.

We’ve had passing comments but not so much at the races, walking around a city or going to concerts is where it generally happens. Most of the racing fans are fine but maybe that’s due to not being openly out at the races.

How positive do you think it is for the LGBT+ community that Jack Duern has returned to being a jockey?

I think it’s amazing, any positive light that we can get is really good. Jack’s openness gets LGBT+ topics and conversations out there which is important to have a meaningful dialogue around and his actions push messages out there that intolerance should not be accepted in our sport.

I hope it gives confidence to people who are struggling to have someone to look up to.

Jack Duern
Jack Duern

Liam Gayfer

Please introduce yourself 

I’m a work rider and I do a variety of other pre-training jobs with horses. I’ve been working in the industry for 10 years. I actually left the racing industry at the start of COVID, but I still have a small hobby interest in the sport as I work at a point-to-point yard which is how I met Ellen.

How did you get into racing?

I’ve always enjoyed being around horses and got into racing at 16 years old when I went to the British Racing School. I loved the adrenaline and rush of riding racehorses. As soon as I got into racing I loved it and still very much do to this day.

How long have you known Ellen?

I’ve known Ellen for about a year now, we met through working at a point-to-point yard, we ride out and go racing together. She’s a great person and I enjoy spending time with her.

What does it mean to you to be an ally?

It’s important for people to speak up and let others know they don’t have to worry. It’s 2021 now and we should be in a day and age where people shouldn’t be holding prejudices. We should accept everyone no matter their sexuality.

It’s important for everyone to be comfortable and not be ashamed to be friends with people who are gay or trans. I think in society it’s still too taboo really but I think that’s changing in a positive way.

Do you think attitudes have changed since you began working in racing?

I think attitudes are improving. People are much more open minded than they used to be. More people are just getting on with it and don’t worry about people’s sexuality.

What areas of progress would you most like to see for the LGBT+ community within the racing industry?

I think there’s room for people to be more accepting. The LGBT+ community shouldn’t ever have to worry about being excluded or feeling negativity directed towards them.

It’s not so much a racing issue exclusively, I just feel that as a wider society there’s room for progress; by that I mean higher levels of understanding and acceptance.