Luke Tuffs is a young-manager-on-the-rise, with ambitions of working at a Football League club. He combines his role as manager of Ashford Town Football Club with his full-time job running a coaching business and playing for Sunday league LGBT-friendly side London Titans.
The 34-year-old headlines the Sports category of the inaugural Attitude 101 list celebrating LGBTQ trailblazers owing to his position as the UK's highest-ranking football manager - something he freely admits is emblematic of the problem football still has when to fostering and environment where LGBTQ people can be out.
"On the playing-staff side, I’m in the eighth tier of English football and I’m the highest out person — that’s not right," Luke says in the Attitude 101 February issue, which you can still download and order globally now.
"As a player, I’ve been spat on, I’ve had people threaten to stab me and all sorts. We have to fight to stop that homophobic abuse, which includes hatred from the terraces, and allowing a team spirit to develop on my side counters that."
Luke Tuffs led the Sport category in the Attitude 101 February issue. (Photography: Markus Bidaux)
As a manager, Luke knows how important it is to break down barriers and creating a dressing-room environment where players can have a laugh about their differences.
“When I started doing my coaching and moving upwards, by the time I was working at first-team level, everyone knew I was gay", he recalls.
"There’s a stereotype that gay people are offended easily, and I always get the feeling early doors that people are treading on eggshells around me, in case they offend me. So I’ll take the mickey out of myself and that allows others to do it and feel comfortable.
"In football culture, when people are taking the mickey out of you, it means they like you — but only if they are doing it to everyone else as well. People outside the game need to realise that, in football, people acknowledge differences by mocking each other from a good place with compassion and togetherness. Usually the best teams are built like that."
Photography: Markus Bidaux
Even on Sundays, Luke’s mind is on football as part of of the LGBTQ-inclusive Titans football team, where he found his place as a gay man as a teenager.
“I’ve been playing for Titans since I was 18 years old and it was a massive help for me because I’d never met any gay people who liked football before,” he reveals.
“All of a sudden, I had this whole community. Now we have visibility with Rainbow Laces and everything, but as a boy growing up, I’d never seen any other gay people apart from Boy George or Elton John. I thought it was a secret that would die with me, until I drunkenly said it one day and couldn’t take it back.
“Being at Titans at that age allowed me to love myself, which was really important as a young teenager, and I’m so grateful for that. I hope to make a difference to the younger players there now, and I get quite a few people who come out to me — at different life stages, too, it’s not just players; it might be coaches and managers who have come out to me as well, but it’s a problem that people still don’t feel comfortable in being themselves.
"We are going in the right direction, but there’s so much more work to do.”
Read the full interview in the Attitude 101 February issue featuring 101 LGBTQ trailblazers, out now.