For a little over a week, Jesús Tomillero has been living with police guards outside his home in La Línea de la Concepción, Cádiz, and does not go outside without them due to increased death threats, El Pais reported on Monday.
The 21-year-old is Spain’s only openly gay referee and has in recent months become an outspoken advocate of gay rights after giving an interview in April about his struggles with abuse within the macho world of football.
The interview gained attention at a time when Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo (who identifies as straight) was dealing with his own spate of homophobic attacks, and it has also shaken Spain’s reputation as being largely LGBT-friendly.
Spain has often been hailed as a model for LGBT rights in Europe as it was one of the first countries to grant equal marriage and adoption rights to same-sex couples in 2005. But the world of football, as Tomillero describes, is not as tolerant in comparison.
In May after a fan verbally attacked Tomillero, the young referee said he would take a break from the profession. But when he returned to the pitch last Saturday September 10th, he started to receive even more intense threats.
During a match between Atlético Zabal and Lassalle, a spectator yelled at Tomillero “retire so you can be a faggot. Go to Big Brother, pretty boy,” referring to the reality show, the referee explained on Twitter.
At that point Tomillero stopped the game and asked other officials to have the man leave the stadium. But the fan continued with the jeers.
“You are a fucking faggot,” the man yelled.
After the game, Tomillero reported the incident to police and wrote about it on social media. That’s when he started receiving a wave of more threats.
“I hope you die of AIDS, faggot,” wrote one person on Twitter.
A more violent threat was posted to his Instagram account when someone sent him pictures of a shot in the head with the caption “The boss is very angry, he does not like fags on his field. You should retire or die.”
Tomillero has said that since his first interview in April, the threats have gotten worse, and he has even had eggs thrown at him in the street.
“I am very, very scared,” he said, according to El Pais.
He is currently in talks with members of the European Parliament to encourage the creation of better protections for LGBT people in sports.
“This was my last game for awhile, but I will continue to defend our rights to be wherever we want to be, including in sports.”