Jesús Tomillero doesn’t like soccer, yet he has been on a pitch for over a decade, a whistle always hanging around his neck.
This 21-year-old from La Línea de la Concepción, in the Andalusian province of Cádiz, was the only registered referee in Spanish soccer who had publicly admitted to being homosexual.
And “was” is the right tense, because Tomillero has just announced he is quitting. He can no longer deal with all the taunts and insults he has been getting since his sexual orientation became known.
“I can’t take it any more. I was scared going into the matches, and that’s not right,” he says. “I don’t know what I’m going to do now, but I can’t keep doing this.”
The last straw was the second-division juvenile game that he refereed last Saturday. Back in the stands, one fan began yelling out abuse such as: “Aren’t you ashamed of blowing the whistle on that, you fucking fag?” or “They’re going to score that goal up your ass, you faggot!”
“You go into shock at times like that,” explains Tomillero. “You have trouble believing your ears. It’s a shame that these things should happen in the 21st century. And the worst part is not the insults themselves, but hearing everyone else laugh.”
After filing a complaint on Monday, Tomillero told the Royal Andalusian Federation that he was quitting.
A waiter and member of the Popular Party’s youth group, Nuevas Generaciones, Tomillero got involved in the world of soccer almost by chance.
“I started to get interested after going to my younger brother’s soccer practice. I started out refereeing friendly matches, and little by little I trained and started to love what I was doing,” he recalls. “Being a referee is my life, it’s in my blood, on my skin.”
And he shows off a leg tattoo depicting two cards and a whistle.
“I’ve been very happy these last few years, even this last year,” he says with pride, hoping that his example will help educate younger kids.
But the fact is that the Saturday episode has been a recurring nightmare for the last 18 months.
“Ever since I admitted that I was homosexual, every day has been worse than the one before. I’ve been insulted often on the pitch, even by six- and seven-year-old children.”
In March, Tomillero filed a complaint over another verbal aggression by a Peña Madridista kit manager. The Cádiz Competition Committee suspended the man for nine games and made him pay a €30 fine.
“I have received support from other referees, friends, relatives and people I don’t know at all,” he says, grateful at all the messages of support on the social media.
Even acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias have sent him notes.
“Good afternoon, Jesús. Our opinion on this is clear: we condemn all types of violence or discrimination. You have our support. Be strong and keep your spirits up. Affectionately,” wrote Rajoy. “Keep your spirit up, Jesús. I trust that sports authorities will not allow these things to happen again,” wrote Iglesias.
English version by Susana Urra.