Words: Jamie Tabberer
Major League Rugby player Devin Ibañez came out publicly as gay only last month but the Massachusetts-born sportsman is loving his new-found sense of freedom
The New England Jacks player, 27, took the plunge on Instagram just before New Year's Eve, telling fans in a moving post that he wanted to “start 2021 by celebrating the love of my life and my partner Fergus”, adding “I am openly gay."
In the Attitude March issue - out now to download and to order globally - the Massachusetts-born sportsman reveals all about his fascinating journey to personal and professional success, admitting he felt he had to speak out publicly about his sexuality to avoid 'pulling' his partner into the closet.
Devin Ibañez talks sexuality and homophobia in rugby in the Attitude March issue (Photography: Anthony Grassetti)
"The seed was planted in 2016. I suffered a potentially life-threatening injury, where I took a shoulder to the throat in a match," Devin tells us. "The swelling almost closed my airway and caused a fracture to the cricoid cartilage in my throat. I had a big re-evaluation of what I wanted to do [and felt that] coming out publicly in a rugby space would be meaningful to me.
"There happened to be a day where I said, 'You know, I don’t want to sit on this any longer'."
Devin, who has previously played professionally in the UK for Yorkshire Division 1 team Scarborough RUFC, adds that his long-distance relationship with London-based Fergus played a big part in his decision to share a coming out post.
"I also wanted to surprise Fergus [by coming out publicly]", Devins says. "I wanted to give him a boost in the middle of all the negativity.
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"It’s one thing when you’re somewhat closeted, keeping your sexuality separate from your rugby career; it’s another when you kind of pull your partner into the closet with you, someone with no shame or desire to hide it, and then you say, 'Can you make your Instagram private so it doesn’t cross over to my rugby career?'"
Devin goes on to reveal how he discovered rugby after suffering bullying and abuse while playing American football in the US.
"I tried American football, but found the team culture negative. I’d be called homophobic slurs and was belittled on a daily basis," he recalls.
"I don’t want to paint a picture that all American football’s like that — I don’t have a broad enough experience — but I was bullied and didn’t fit in. It didn’t motivate me and I quit two months in.
Photography: Anthony Grassetti
"It was completely by chance I found rugby after sitting down with a guidance counsellor. I’d never heard of it! I went to a training session and fell in love."
Devin, who says the reaction to his coming out has been "overwhelmingly positive", adds that he hopes being out and proud in the "quite conservative" game of rugby can help tackle homophobia in the game.
"The microaggressions and homophobic language — there’s no room for it", he says.
"When you, especially the coach, the person you’re meant to be looking up to, allow those things, there’s never going to be a closeted athlete it’s not going to have a negative effect on. Take a stand."