A damning new report into Australian gay sportspeople has revealed that 42% of LGBT players have experienced homophobic abuse.
Come Out To Play, the first survey in Australia to examine the experiences of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender participation in sport was launched in Victoria yesterday to a room full of media. The details and results of the ground breaking report have been highly anticipated following recent discussion and activities questioning the current inclusiveness of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in sporting codes in Australia. The report also came hot on the heels of inflammatory comments made earlier that morning by AFL Western Bulldogs player, Jason Akermanis who expressed that he thought that an openly gay player would not yet be welcome or safe in the AFL.
Akermanis has since further defended his statements, saying that he was neither homophobic himself nor did he have any issues with gay players himself, but reiterated that he was simply expressing that he felt the AFL was still not an accepting environment yet.
The research report, carried out by Victoria University and Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria, took place in the form of an online survey.
307 sporting individuals took part in the predominantly VicHealth funded research study that revealed that a staggering 42% of all queer people had experienced homophobic abuse in the sporting environment. Women and transgender people faired worse overall in areas of homophobic abuse, sexism, and participation encouragement. However it was the perceived gay men who suffered more from physical and verbal attacks, and had their gender or sexuality called into question. Perceived gay men were also more likely to be excluded from sporting activities.
Dr. Caroline Symons [ picture 3 ] from Victoria University’s School of Sport and Exercise Science, was one of the researches who conducted the study. She was quick to highlight the issue of ‘perception’ and that homophobia was a broader issue that effected everyone.“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.”
In most cases nothing was done about the homophobia that took place in the sporting area, which is perceived to be the 2nd most ‘unsafe’ area to be openly queer identifying. Furthermore, the report revealed that in our formative years, teachers didn’t champion equity and progress in combating homophobia.
VicHealth CEO, Todd Harper [ picture 4 ] spoke briefly on the issue of silence surrounding homophobia in sport,
“Discrimination flourishes when good people stay silent,” he said.
Interestingly, Come Out To Play also showed that it helped participation and involvement if other people in the team or club were openly gay. Organised team sports were more popular on the whole, with the most positive sporting experiences coming from queer accepting events such as the Gay games, out games and activities by gay sporting teams. Popular sports preferred by GLBT people included Tennis, Swimming, Rugby and Soccer, however results showed that AFL was the sport that most queer people wanted to play or participate in.
Western Bulldogs coach, Rodney Eade [ picture 2 ]was present at the launch of the report, lending the support of his club and the AFL to eliminating homophobia in sport, rejecting claims such as those made by Akermanis that gay people in the AFL wouldn’t be welcome and safe.
“The central mission of the Western Bulldogs is to respect diversity within our community… the bulldogs have a strong record of seeking to eliminate discrimination on the grounds of gender race or religion… It’s now time to bring sexual orientation under that banner,” Eade said at the launch.
“As this report points out, the sport that most gay and lesbian people most want to play, but don’t play for fear of abuse is AFL… lets turn that around and become known as the most inclusive sporting code in the country… The AFL has a proud record of being socially responsible… the bulldogs support the AFL and the AFL PA (Players Association) in highlighting the issue of homophobia… All we want is a level playing field.”
The AFL said the game was open to anyone, regardless of sexual orientation. ‘’Jason Akermanis is entitled to express his opinion, but I don’t believe it reflects the views of clubs, players and officials involved in the AFL and the broader football community,’’ AFL boss Andrew Demetriou told the Age.
Speaking at the launch was Dr Helen Szoke [ picture 5 ], Commissioner at the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission. She re-inforced the recommendations made by the report calling for the establishment of a formal Code of Practice for the sports sector. She also called for much more education and further research on the issues.
“We are such a sporting nation… sport is such a part of our lives. I wonder why hasn’t more been done already? When we look at the great sporting moments of our time, we will see that we are often too taking major steps forward in social and civil rights…Lets make this another great moment.” Szoke said.
Former Olympic swimmer, and recently out gay man, Daniel Kowalski [ picture 1 ] had the last say at the report launch, sharing his heartfelt and moving words on the issues of homophobia in sport. He told the gallery of how lucky he felt to be accepted as an out gay man, and that he wished that he had come out earlier in his career, now that he was in a position to see the good it would have done.
“I’m an out man… an out gay man… um I still not exactly sure of the correct term, but I can see the difference it makes to be out and be yourself…” Kowalski said.
“Change doesn’t just come about from one individual… it’s not about outing an individual but giving them a place where they can be themselves and comfortable.”