David Gough no longer sidelined after GAA’s warm embrace

Publicly gay since 2011, the referee told the association president of his newfound sense of wellbeing

During an official function after the drawn All-Ireland final of 2019, referee David Gough stood up to speak and addressed then GAA president John Horan.

Publicly gay since 2011, Gough told Horan of how his self-confidence and general happiness had mushroomed as a result of the GAA’s full embrace.

“I spoke about the sense of self-acceptance that the GAA had helped to give me during 2019 with the Late Late Show appearance, with the pride parade and then to back that up by giving me the final, it led to probably my best performance on a football field,” said Gough.

Given the brouhaha around Gough’s appointment in the first place — Eamonn Fitzmaurice had pointed out that as Meath man Gough was “living and working in Dublin” he couldn’t be classed as “neutral” in a game between Dublin and Kerry — thriving under all that pressure was noteworthy.


Gough tells the story by way of encouragement for any young player or athlete who is thinking, and procrastinating, about coming out and being their full authentic selves in public.

“When I came out publicly in 2011, I just assumed that it would open doorways for other people and it doesn’t seem to have,” said Gough. “Or maybe they just haven’t taken the opportunity. They’re there, there’s no doubt about it. We only have to look at the recent coming out within the Leinster panel.

“They’ve had two within the last year and it just hasn’t happened [within the GAA], and we’re talking about 64 intercounty football and hurling teams where nobody seems to have found a comfortable space yet, or a place in their journey where they feel comfortable coming out.

“And that’s a little bit sad because greater visibility leads to greater ease for people who are following in those footsteps.”

Is the GAA doing enough to open up those pathways for players to be their true selves in public?

“It has … and it has more to do,” reasoned Gough. “It’s not a simple statement to say they have done enough or they haven’t done enough. They’re in the process of doing it.

“We only have to look back to 2015 when I wasn’t allowed to wear a [rainbow] wristband, 2019 when we walked in the pride parade, to 2022 where now the GPA is getting involved, there is a diversity and inclusion officer, there’s two dedicated LGBT teams in the two main cities in this country.

“We have Na Gaeil Aeracha, and Aeracha Uladh in Belfast, and that’s huge and that gives young people who want to stay involved with Gaelic games an opportunity to socialise with people of their own sexuality and to play Gaelic games and to go and support Gaelic games with their friends and meet people who have similar interests to them. That is fantastic that that’s where we’re now at.”

While the visibility that Gough craves is there in many ladies sports, like camogie and women’s football, it appears that male players still view coming out as strictly off-limits.

“It’s that fear around exclusion, it’s that fear obviously around body image and showering with other males and what they’re perceiving and what you’re perceiving and none of it comes to any fruition whatsoever, everything just goes on and continues as normal, just now they know something private about you that they never knew before that actually is, as it turns out, very irrelevant to them,” said Gough.

The Slane club man will referee Sunday’s All-Ireland quarter-final between Kerry and Mayo. It’s why he won’t be marching in the annual Dublin Pride Parade tomorrow. Instead, he will attend the Gaelic Players Association’s Pride Breakfast in the city and then make a quick exit.

“I’d usually walk in the parade but I suppose just the nervousness of it, the waiting around that can be involved with it, the long walk, I just want to stay away from that side of it in the buildup to the game,” he said.

Hopefully for Kerry and Mayo, Gough won’t need to dish out five red cards, like he did when Armagh and Tyrone clashed in a fiery league game earlier this year.

“The spotlight was shone on me in relation to five red cards but I only implemented the rules,” he said. “You have to look back at the players, they need to accept responsibility for their behaviour.”

  • David Gough is part of SuperValu’s #CommunityIncludesEveryone campaign.