Richard Morris: "It was a huge moment for me to be able to come out in motorsport"
Not only is he a racing driver, but Richard Morris is a proud campaigner for inclusion and diversity in motorsport. After coming out following a move to sports cars in 2018, despite the fear which came alongside that, Richard co-founded Racing Pride, the first movement in the world about specifically promoting LGBTQ+ inclusion in motorsport.
"I believe that all people are equal and equally valid."
Currently racing in the Britcar Endurance Championship, a multi-class series for prototype and GT cars in Britain, Richard has every reason to be proud of what he has achieved so far in motorsport – and not just in terms of the literal racing. For the 2021 season, Richard competed in the Praga Championship for CW Performance alongside Christopher Wesemael. Races are mostly one-hour long, with the exception of the two-hour feature race at Silverstone, which, for the record, was won by Richard and Chris.
Prior to Britcar, Richard raced in karts until the end of 2016 and moved to Formula Ford for the 2017 and 2018 seasons. In 2019 and 2020, he raced in prototypes in Sports 1000, as the works driver for Spire Sports Cars. The 2021 season was his first in Britcar and with Praga.
As an openly gay man, the issue of diversity and visibility within the motorsport industry is so important to Richard.
In his mid-teens, when he was racing in British Championship Karting, he remembers there only being one girl competing, compared to at least one hundred boys. During his karting career, Richard only knew one black driver. This is just one person’s experience, and one person’s experience which highlights just how important diversity is.
Having a supportive group around you is important in motorsport, no matter your background, and Richard recognises this, especially in the form of his current Praga teammate. He tells me a heartfelt story, about how he and Christopher raced against each other in Sports 1000 and were driving for the two main rival teams. One week after Racing Pride launched, Richard raced in Anglesey, and noticed that the first car, other than his, to proudly showcase a Racing Pride sticker, was that of Christopher Wesemael.
“To see someone who was my direct rival getting on board with this because he felt it was an important cause,” he smiles. “That was really meaningful to me. He has been the most fantastic ally.”
Richard goes on to highlight the support he felt when he came out, especially from his current team at the time – Spire Sports Cars. He has been shown some really great allyship since he came out, but knows that this isn’t always the case for everyone.
“I think we’re very far from where we want, or even need, to be, but I’m definitely seeing huge changes from when I first started racing,” Richard tells me as we chat about diversity more generally within the industry. “I wasn’t aware of any other LGBTQ+ drivers full stop, let alone in my series.”
Looking at aspects of diversity in motorsport now, compared to a few years ago, Richard highlights the encouragement he feels in knowing that diversity is more on the agenda now than it once was.
“There are more female drivers, there are more women involved in technical roles,” these changes are so important to highlight. “The number of ethnic minority participants is higher than it was and as Racing Pride ambassadors show, there are visible LGBTQ+ figures in the sport now.”
"I couldn't be a gay driver and be a successful driver."
Even during his teenage years, while karting seriously, Richard was the subject of targeted harassment, despite not actually being openly out in motorsport but knowing he was gay. He explains how it took a few years after he had constant boyfriends and after he came out to his friends to feel like he could tackle the thought of coming out in motorsport.
“One of the reasons for that was the lack of previous representation of role models,” he says. “The fact that the motorsport industry had marketed itself in the way that it had over the previous decades to, essentially, straight white men… it gave me an image of who I should be. I was conscious that I wasn’t that.”
Richard faced people who were using unhelpful language, particularly homophobic language, which removed the confidence he had about coming out to those people. They weren’t, as he came to realise, the type of people he felt he could come out to. When he tried to come out to some people around him at the track during his karting career, the initial reaction was particularly poor, and not what he envisioned.
At a British Championship event close to where Richard went to school, he turned up on race morning to find language like ‘gay boy’ and ‘fag’ graffitied over graphics on his kart in permanent marker.
“My dad didn’t know I was gay,” Richard remembers how tough that situation was for him. “I’d not come out to him and I wasn’t going to choose that moment to. I basically had to tell him, ‘I guess people are bullying me’.”
Both Richard and his dad had to destroy the graphics on the kart which were expensive and brand new. Nobody at the circuit – no one within the team and no officials – wanted to help or actively support him.
A few years later, Richard discovered it was a mechanic who sabotaged the graphics on his kart.
“I felt very rejected by motorsport in that moment,” he tells me. “I couldn’t be a gay driver and be a successful driver.
“For years after that, I always covered up anything to do with being gay and I tried to perform the role of the racing driver that I’d been accustomed to seeing.”
After those experiences, Richard realised the importance of focusing on the driving and competing. He didn’t want to come out to anyone from that point and when he moved to single seaters, he was sure that he wasn’t surrounded by bad people.
Talking about the levels of resilience and determination those experiences, albeit negative, gave him, Richard says, “it was a huge moment for me to be able to come out in motorsport. It really wasn’t easy.”
When Richard felt the time was right, he came out within motorsport.
One of the first things he did was during Rainbow Laces in November 2018. He posted a picture of him and his boyfriend on Instagram and discussed how it wasn’t easy being gay in motorsport, whilst also expressing how great it was to see other sports doing Rainbow Laces and how he wished motorsports had something similar.
This led to the idea, and therefore creation, of Racing Pride.
"The Aston Martin partnership is huge for Racing Pride."
A movement to positively promote the LGBTQ+ community through motorsport, Racing Pride discusses aspects of visibility and education, and partners with series, teams and organisations to raise awareness for the issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community and how the sport can be more open towards those issues.
Feeling very conscious that motorsport still didn’t have anything similar to the Rainbow Laces campaign, Richard’s posts on social media were recognised by Jon Holmes, who runs the Rainbow Laces coverage for Sky Sports. Meetings led to discussions, and Stonewall became involved. Matt Bishop, who works in Communications for Aston Martin Cognizant Formula 1 team, was, and still is, a key figure in Racing Pride.
Racing Pride was officially launched in Pride month in June 2019 with the support of Autosport and Sky Sports.
“I don’t think there’s been a single day since early 2019 when I have not worked on Racing Pride,” Richard says, proudly. “One of the most important things Racing Pride does, is it starts the conversations that were never had before in motorsport.”
Richard highlights the visible allyship which has grown since the beginning of discussions about diversity and visibility. With a global fanbase, motorsport has an amazing opportunity to use that platform to inspire positive change and tell people all over the world that they are valid, and valued, as who they are.
Richard says, “I really don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that it has that [level of] power.”
Replacing those stereotypical images with sports stars and positive role models will make such a difference to those in the LGBTQ+ community who have faced struggles throughout their lives.
Everyone can help Racing Pride grow as a movement and show their support for the cause in a variety of ways. Interacting on social media or having a Racing Pride sticker on their karts or even their laptops is an easy way for people to promote that message and support the cause. With an ally pack easily accessible on their website, Racing Pride uses that as a method to dig into those issues, the terminology and how they can be supportive.
Racing Pride have also partnered with Aston Martin in Formula 1 to promote their message, but also to educate AM team members on issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community.
“The Aston Martin partnership is huge for Racing Pride. Our partnership is another step in elevating LGBTQ+ inclusion on the agenda for motorsport,” Richard explains how other teams have also become involved with Racing Pride, too, including Williams and staff members at Formula 1 headquarters. “We’ve seen drivers using their platforms in ways they’ve never done before, and Seb [Vettel] wearing the LGBTQ+ shirt in Hungary was a prime example.”
On a personal level, Richard talks about how surreal it feels to watch the driver he grew up watching dominate the World Championship being one of the biggest advocates for what he is trying to achieve in the sport through Racing Pride.
“Seb really has taken it on himself to be an incredibly active global ally to everything we’re trying to achieve and I’m enormously grateful to him for that.”
But, Racing Pride’s partnership goes further than with Formula 1 teams, and that is essential to promote inclusion throughout motorsport, from grassroots to Grand Prix.
On coming out within motorsport, Richard knows that any advice he gives is easier said than done. Being yourself is important in any aspect of life.
“You need to dedicate yourself fully to it and you’re only going to be able to do that as yourself,” he explains. “It’s only then you’re going to feel fully invested and feel that sense of belonging and purpose.
“I think trying to pretend to be someone else to fit in isn’t the best strategy.”
With support not only from Racing Pride, but from a variety of organisations outside of motorsport, those in the LGBTQ+ community always have someone to turn to. Richard highlights the importance of this.
“It’s important for people reading this to be themselves,” Richard smiles. “And to know that they can be supported, even if there aren’t people in their direct environment.”
Photo Credit: Richard Morris