Pride House Ambassador for the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games
“Being a mixed race bi-sexual woman is a really strong part of my identity and one that I am proud of. So, I am more than happy to share it and talk about it with the world or whoever wants to talk about it. If it even helps one person feel more confident in their own skin and their own choices.”
Stacey Francis-Bayman has had an amazing netball career to date, having played in the UK (Team Bath and Yorkshire Jets), New Zealand (Tactix) and Australian (West Coast Fever) competitions as well as at an international level (English Roses). She’s the Players Representative and Vice-Chair of the Netball Players Association, while Francis-Bayman has always been open about her sexuality and advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community.
“I don’t have a coming out story. I never felt obligated to define myself in a certain way or in a certain category…. I have very open and honest parents and that helps. There were never really any topics or subjects in my household that were taboo. I was always taught as I was growing up to have complete ownership and confidence in the person I wanted to be.
“I always loved being mixed race when I was younger, being able to dip into both aspects of my heritage whether it was white or black. That was definitely from my parents and just trickled over into my sexuality. I was like, I don’t have to classify myself under one specific heading or title or feel uncomfortable. I liked that point of difference, which for some people can be very uncomfortable, but for me it was certainly something that I have always been encouraged to lead with.”
More recently Francis-Bayman has been named as one of the Pride House Ambassadors for the 2022 Commonwealth Games being held in Birmingham, England. Established in 2010 at the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in Vancouver, Canada, Pride House is a way to connect with people from different cultures and backgrounds, to learn empathy and experience diversity. It is modelled after a traditional Olympic hospitality house that welcomes LGBTIQ+ athletes, fans and their allies during large-scale international sporting events. The purpose of Pride House is to be a safe space to view the games, experience the event with others and learn about LGBTIQ+ in sport.
“The Commonwealth Games provides all sorts of opportunities not just to compete on an international stage but to learn about yourself and the various communities around the world. You obviously get to interact with all of the countries on an athlete-to-athlete basis.
“I think it is always important to immerse yourself in that and it is a fantastic opportunity for nations that have an outdated belief around sexuality and gender to use that chance to inform themselves and feel empowered to have conversations. I think it can feel uncomfortable for people but the more normalised you make it the more you know about the appropriate terms. Even if coming from an inquisitive perspective, people can’t be offended if you just want to know more about a person.”
Francis-Bayman is excited to be a Pride House Ambassador, especially as she is a born and bred “Brummie” so has a deep connection to the local community.
“The Birmingham Commonwealth Games for me is the biggest goal that I have on the horizon given that I didn’t compete at the last Commonwealth Games where England won gold and also Birmingham is my hometown….I have also stepped much stronger into the primary role of being ambassador over the past couple of years and being much more transparent about my relationship.
“So it seems like a really positive opportunity to champion increased visibility and education around the LGBTQ+ community and also excellent because I am born and bred from Birmingham. It combines a personal passion of mine that I am really trying to champion and be more outspoken about.”
Francis-Bayman has been selected into the English Roses squad for the 2021-2022 international season, leading into the 2022 Commonwealth Games. She hopes to build on her previous English Roses experience and be more comfortable than she has been in the past.
“It is weird as it has been a rollercoaster. I was reluctant to describe it like that, but it certainly has been. I think when I decided to withdraw myself from the [English Roses] squad with full knowledge it would mean that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to go to a World Cup and Commonwealth Games [back in 2018/2019] with a team that I wholeheartedly knew could win gold, the decision was made for me and for the benefit of my physical and mental health.
“I feel like I had a strong difference of values between the leadership team and a change of coach certainly helped contribute to me thinking I might want to put myself back into that environment again.”
Francis-Bayman is much more positive about her experience this time around working under new coach, Jess Thirlby. They have known each other for a long time, having played together at Team Bath.
“When I very first met [Jess] I was travelling down to play at Team Bath at 15/16 and she was a player at Bath. Very quickly she decided that she wanted to be a coach and she stepped away from playing netball quite early on to start her coaching journey. Then she was the coach of Team Bath and then she was the coach of my under 21 team that went to the 2009 World Youth Champs so we have a strong and positive past working relationship.
“But what I really appreciated from Jess given that we hadn’t worked together for quite some time by the time she came into coach was that she didn’t want to start that relationship on any assumption based on past ways of working either for her or for me. So it was really about us getting to know each other again. Seeing that I was not the same athlete, and she was not the same coach, but we had the same values and beliefs and were driven towards the same goals to move forward.”
Francis-Bayman believes her role is important in netball and the broader elite sport community by speaking up and educating people about people who identify as LGBTQ+.
“Where my journey is still evolving is realising how I can use the fortunate position I am in and my platform to share my story and for it to have positive impacts on other people. I don’t think I quite realised. I am a very honest and transparent person, but I didn’t realise that by being so honest and transparent about my relationship how much positive feedback I would get. That became really obvious really quickly and it seemed to me like a missed opportunity if I didn’t champion my points of difference. I am all about trying to stand out and be different.”
Despite COVID-19 setbacks, Francis-Bayman got to experience her “beautiful day” when she married her wife, Sara, in December 2020, after the delayed 2020 SSN season finished. Francis-Bayman and Sara (coach of the Loughborough Lightning team in the Vitality Netball competition in the UK) also became involved with the Rainbow Laces campaign.
“It is a day each year used to highlight and educate people about LGBTQ+ community with respects to sport, the potential barriers that are there, that you may not realise, conscious and unconscious biases. Sport has so many fantastic take-aways and to make sure LGBTQ+ people feel they are able to contribute in a sporting environment. It was just another opportunity for Sara and I to talk about how our relationship has evolved in sport specifically because that is where we met, in the same team. And also, to talk about how positive our experience has been through netball.”
Francis-Bayman believes that education will lead to greater acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community and differences generally.
“We would be such a backwards race if we didn’t speak about everything and everyone and all of the choices. I think the more exposure we have to different sections of the community the more well-rounded a person you are. The more you learn about yourself and the more you learn about other people the better that you can co-exist in the world.”
Dealing with detractors and negative comments is also something that visible LGBTQ+ representatives like Francis-Bayman can experience but she sees it as an opportunity, particularly talking about the conversations that went on during the same sex marriage campaign in Australia in 2017.
“My experiences have been a little bit different since coming to Australia. I remember when there was the vote on same sex marriage, and I think that forced people to have open and honest conversations about a sensitive and personal topic. It was interesting to find out things about people and listen to people’s thoughts and opinions on something that they don’t necessarily normally share. That was quite an interesting time.
“It is a challenging situation I think but one that you have to throw yourself headfirst into conversations as one you learn a lot about yourself and you learn a lot about other people and if you disagree on a fundamental level, I am not sure how friendly you could be. I felt uncomfortable with people who felt they could vote no but be friends with LGBTQ+ people. It was a challenging time and I actually backed away from having conversations with people about it for fear of finding out things that wouldn’t align with my thoughts and beliefs.”
So, what are the ways Francis-Bayman sees to address these issues.
“Visibility helps. I have heard a few times here that sports and politics don’t mix, which I find to be an incredibly interesting statement. You don’t get to just experience Stacey the netballer, I implore you to experience me as a whole person. Netball is just one part of me and there are many others that are equally important if not more.”
Francis-Bayman continues to be a leader in professional sport and thinks there is more that needs to be done in order to embrace all kinds of diversity.
“I still struggle to nail exactly what that is. I think choosing to engage actively as an ambassador around LGBTQ+ issues has opened a completely new window and avenue. And also, education-wise just because I am a bisexual woman it doesn’t mean I understand the history of or the current experiences of all gay, lesbian or bisexual people.
“I think we could deal with the educational side of things as netball moves forward, aligning ourselves with appropriate partners that will help you champion those messages and also help educate your players and fans as well.”
Playing for the West Coast Fever since 2017 in the SSN competition has been a positive experience for Francis-Bayman, despite the challenges of a long-distance relationship, and has given her the freedom to grow as a player.
“I love how we are constantly motivated to challenge ourselves and each other to be better. The club that I arrived at is not the club I am at now, and there were certainly mainly positive ways of working when I got to Fever. Our ambition and desire to create change and push the club towards more and sustained success is difficult and can mean you miss those moments of success or really stop and appreciate how much work you have done to get to where you are.
“There is certainly a huge hunger from the core group of players and certainly the wider community of Netball WA and WCF to push the club on to bigger and better things and give the state the recognition that it deserves.”
Francis-Bayman has also learnt a lot from Fever coach and current Australian Diamonds coach, Stacey Marinkovich.
“[Stacey] takes her job very seriously and is constantly learning, working with mentors, developing herself on court and off court to be the best coach she can possible be. She drives a people first program There is a group of people who are there to get the best out of each other and feel valued and that they can contribute to the environment.
“Stacey is very good at making sure that is what happens on a day-to-day basis. Although she is the head coach, we have different coaches that take the lead on different things. That is a common trait I have seen with great coaches in the past. That they are fully aware of their strengths and weaknesses and are not afraid to bring people in to complement them and to say if and when they don’t know something.”
Marinkovich has also encouraged leadership from the Fever players during her time as coach.
“One of our biggest pieces of work over the past two to three seasons has been developing a team of 10 leaders. It sounds like one of those things that is cliché and is a nice idea but it involves a lot of work and that certainly is the biggest area of growth we have had over the last couple of seasons, making sure that each person feels valued and also empowered to contribute to the team environment and there is not just one or two people doing the heavy lifting or being leant on, that everybody is effectively pulling their weight…. I have certainly been allowed to lead and bring that into the Fever environment.”
Francis-Bayman is a leader in netball and will likely continue to be a leader in what she does outside of netball.
“What is most important is the people that I get to work with and alongside on a day-to-day basis know me as a person as having very strong values and morals and that I kept myself accountable to those. I also push and challenged them to be better as well.
“I think the most important thing is that people remember you fondly as a good teammate and a good person. I have never really sought out individual accolades or attributes. I never wanted to be the best defender in the world or the most exciting defender in the world but I will not be challenged on my training ethic or passion.”