“I’d like to tell you what it’s like being a gay footy player. I’ve experienced homophobia in Aussie Rules Football first hand – now it’s time to end it.”
That’s what twenty four year old footy player Jason Bell had to say when launching his petition to tackle homophobia in the AFL. The petition, being run through change.org, called on the AFL to run No to Homophobia ads during the AFL Grand Final and launch a Pride Round in 2013.
Bell’s work is shining a light on a major issue in the sporting world. Wherever you look, whether it is in the social leagues, or in elite competition, queerphobia is still rife.
Homophobia pops its head up everywhere it seems. Recently St. Kilda AFL player Stephen Milne was recently fined $3,000 for calling a Collingwood player a ‘f*&%n homo’. This follows the controversy former player Jason Akermanis caused in 2010 after he wrote an opinion piece calling on gay AFL players to stay in the closet. Akermanis said that the sport wasn’t ready for people to come out (as far as I am aware, no AFL players at the top league have come out as of yet).
A report in 2010, Come out to Play, showed that of the 307 surveyed LGBT sportspeople in Victoria, a whopping 42% had experience some form of abuse due to their sexual identity. At the time of the release of the report Dr. Caroline Symons from Victoria University’s School of Sport and Exercise noted that this didn’t just affect GLBT participants. She said:
“While GLBT people are likely to experience homophobic discrimination in sport, it is important to note that you don’t have to be gay, lesbian or transgender to experience it… Straight people perceived as gay are just as open to discrimination and homophobia.”
The likelihood of this is that many GLBTI people are either avoiding sports or hiding their sexuality when they do participate. Some of these statistics are stark – of 11,000 athletes at the London Olympics for example, only 22 were out. That’s a tiny 0.2% of the Olympic competition. Those who then do come out often face the potential of intense levels of abuse, possible issues with teammates and sponsorship.
I am a lucky sportsperson. I play ultimate Frisbee, social netball, and go to the gym, and am comfortably out in all of these spaces. But for many it’s not like this and
we can all help to make things better. It’s not just about being open in sport yourself. It’s about standing up to those who are homophobic, whether it is full on abuse, or just a little joke or taunt. This is a job not just for queer people, but for straight people as well.
In August, the AFL launched the ‘No to Homophobia Campaign’. Featuring Andrew Demetriou, Eddie McGuire and Lauren Jackson, the campaign will include a year-long social media and TV advertising plan to tackle homophobia. In 2011, former Australian hockey player Gus Johnson tackled the issue of homophobia straight on in a YouTube clip called “Gus Johnson: The Reality of Homophobia in Sport.” In the clip Johnson publicly outed himself and emotionally discussed the impact homophobia in sport had on him as a player. Straight players such as David Pocock from Rugby Union have also taken an active role, with Pocock taking public stands on issues such as same-sex marriage.
Governments are acting too. Here in the ACT, a $272,000 new program was launched early in this year to stamp out homophobia in sports, which will include a full time project officer to identify and break down barriers that may inhibit participation in sports and develop resources to assist clubs to foster a culture of inclusiveness and to respond to discrimination when it occurs.
At the close of the 2012 games in London we celebrate the achievements of the 22 out Olympians and celebrate athletes everywhere who are making a difference in sport as we aim to eradicate homophobia everywhere.