This is a terrifying petition to write. But it’s important. I’d like to tell you what it’s like being a gay footy player, because today there’s a real chance we could begin to change the culture of homophobia in the AFL.
I’ve played amateur footy every season since I was five - almost all in the Yarra Valley league. I was raised in a household that lives and breathes the game. But when I realised I was gay the idea that my teammates might find out was terrifying.
It’s a blokey culture -- and gay slurs are a regular part of games and training. It’s a horrible reminder that you’re different, reviled and unwelcome. It felt like the footy club would be the one place I could never come out. Whether it’s intentional or not, the reality is that the culture of the AFL is hostile to fans and players like me.
Young gay people are up to 6 times more likely to be depressed, to self harm, or to contemplate suicide. I was 12 when I realised I might be gay, and footy was my life. It was a really hard time for me and if I had known of positive gay role models in society, in football, it would have made a world of difference.
The AFL has done amazing work tackling racism -- now it’s time for the AFL to take real and substantive action to build a culture where people like me are welcomed and supported - and where homophobia is simply not acceptable.
Last week, the AFL issued a statement saying it supported the No to Homophobia campaign (www.notohomophobia.com.au). It’s a great first step, and now the AFL needs to do more.
I believe if the AFL and Andrew Demetriou are serious, they should show the No to Homophobia ad on the big screen at the Grand Final, and even add it to the footy record. It'd show to the hundreds of thousands of people watching that this time their commitment is real. They should commit to a Pride Round, just like they have done with the Multicultural and Indigenous Rounds -- it would have a massive impact in building a more inclusive and respectful culture towards the GLBTI communtiy in sport.
It was my teammates who eventually told me they knew I was gay, and that it wasn't an issue for them. I think I'm pretty lucky to have such a supportive group of players around me - especially in a regional town. It could have gone the other way - and it's no wonder to me that there are no openly gay players in the AFL. I know how they feel. But I think the players are ready for change. The clubs are ready for change. The supporters are ready for change. We just need the AFL to lead and help shift the sporting culture so that players and fans like me can openly be who we are without fear.
I want to show the AFL that there are other players and fans just like me -- who’ve experienced the highs and lows of being gay and intimately involved in the sport we all love. If you’ve got a story to share, please send it to me so that I can share it directly with the AFL: email@example.com.
Please tweet about this campaign at #aflpride and join this facebook group if you want to help be part of creating a more inclusive and welcoming culture for gay people in the AFL: http://on.fb.me/Nhb5IP