21 May 2010


Homophobia - in the same week as IDAHO - INTERNATIONAL DAY AGAINST HOMOPHOBIA AND TRANSPHOBIA - Jason Akermanis - an AFL player who thinks he is some sort of a god makes some comments similar to what Ian Roberts suggests in his article in the newspaper of 21 May 2010: "Look, it's OK to be gay, if you really must be, but keep it to yourself if you're an AFL player. You'll only make your life hell if you come out".

What Akermanis is actually saying is: "I hate poofters and the sooner we can get rid of the lot, the happier we will all be!!!"

It has been quite a week of homophobia in Australia over this IDAHO period, and a series of newspaper articles and letters will give some idea of what the ongoing story is in Rudd's and Abbott's Australia.

While on the topic of newspapers and their contents, it should be pointed out that The Age's coverage of the rally for same-sex marriage and IDAHO from Saturday 15 May 2010 onwards is an absolute disgrace. We all know how homophobic our media are, but this non-coverage takes their homophobia to new depths!

Many years ago the Melbourne comedian Rod Quantock had a programme on ABC television called "AUSTRALIA - YOU'RE STANDING IN IT!". Bigotry, hate speech, homophobia, hypocrisy - one runs out of words to describe the horrors and the outcomes. Depression, suicide, hate crimes of the worst sorts, murders - all because people like Akermanis are an example to young people of how to deal with poofters and dykes and trannies around them.

Passion gets political as gays voice choice for marriage

May 16, 2010 - Sunday Age

THE pashing was political at the State Library yesterday. The esteemed actor Sir Ian McKellen spoke to hundreds who had gathered for a gay marriage ''kiss-in'', saying: ''Gay people are all born unique, but we are all born equal with the rest of the population and the law simply must not discriminate.''

He arrived in a plume of jasmine fragrance and croaked a bit from starring in Waiting for Godot, which is on at the Comedy Theatre until May 22.

The British Lord of the Rings star justified his right to speak, saying: ''It is a matter of principle here and it is a principle that foreigners can have a say in.''

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young did not pucker up for the kiss-in. She said her staff had warned her they would not be smooching. But Senator Hanson-Young did vow to reintroduce a gay marriage bill to Parliament after the federal election. ''Once Parliament resumes, it will be the first bill that I table,'' she said, after slamming federal politicians for treating gay marriage as an ''icky issue''.

The gay marriage bill was defeated in the Senate in February, but the senator said she hoped it would have a better chance after the election.

Gay activists presented the senator with a petition calling for gay marriage. The petition carried more than 100,000 signatures and was wrapped in spangled, glittery ribbons.

State member for Melbourne Bronwyn Pike, who also addressed the rally, told The Sunday Age: ''The state government has gone as far as it can within our jurisdiction to recognise same-sex relationships. The federal government does need to go that one step further and amend the Marriage Act.''

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has previously said: ''Marriage is between a man and a woman.''

A spokesman for Mr Rudd, Sean Kelly, said yesterday that the Prime Minister stood by that view.

One member of the crowd, Nathan O'Neill, 32, said if Centrelink would give him only half an unemployment benefit because of his male partner's income, ''Why can't we have gay marriage?''


AFL welcome is not about 'coming out'

May 17, 2010 The Age

When AFL players recently lent their voice to a campaign promoting tolerance and diversity in the lead-up to today's International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO), the response from the community was overwhelmingly positive.

Here at the AFL Players' Association, we received great feedback from members of the general public, and gay and lesbian groups alike, welcoming players' efforts to send a message that the footy was a welcome place for anyone, gay or straight.

Former swimmer Daniel Kowalski said the AFLPA contribution to the campaign - in which our board members and delegates were photographed holding signs with messages of social inclusion - was a significant factor in him deciding to talk about his homosexuality for the first time (in The Sunday Age 18/4).

While most people applauded Daniel for his bravery, it also touched on the obsession with ''coming out'' that was once again highlighted in the aftermath of the publication of the player photos.

''Does this mean a player is about to come out?'' some asked. ''Will the AFLPA be urging players to come out?''

To which I would say: You've totally missed the point. Or, to put it another way: Why should they?

I accept that people will always be interested in sexuality, because we will always be interested in sex, so the question of whether someone is straight, gay or otherwise will never go away.

Real progress will come when we do not shrug our shoulders and pretend homosexuality is an issue of no relevance, but neither do we vigorously coerce people to ''out'' themselves.

For Daniel, the decision was deeply personal, and the right one for him. It didn't come after coercion from others, or offers of money from media organisations.

But the assumption that there are gay footballers who are yet to lift the curtain and expose their sexuality to the world - and the corresponding belief that this will be the moment that true enlightenment arrives - is misplaced. Dangerous, even.

You could argue that it's actually based on a narrow view of what is an ''acceptable'' identity. This view has meant that anything other than what is considered mainstream normal has had to be declared and exposed.

While there may be enormous relief and psychological benefit for the individual in being able to live more authentically when their sexuality is known, the push for someone to ''come out'' also has the undeniable connotation of branding that person as the ''other'' - someone who is not like us.

The beauty of the AFL players' small contribution to IDAHO was that it does not place pressure on a player - or anyone - to come out.

The focus is very deliberately not on the ''other'' but on the playing group as a whole standing together and making a statement that football welcomes all kinds of people, with all kinds of stories.

I can't help but think of the oft-cited example of former Australian Rugby League player Ian Roberts who is still, 15 years later, the only player of any Australian football code to come out.

Most people remember him now, simply as ''that gay league player''. Few people remember how good a player he was.

He won the Australian Sports Medal and, in 2005, was named one of the best 25 New South Wales rugby league players of all time.

Fewer still remember how tough and uncompromising he was on the field, partly because it does not fit the stereotype of a gay man.

And then there is the tragic story of English soccer player Justin Fashanu. Like Roberts he stands alone as the only professional player in the history of his sport to talk publicly about his homosexuality. In 1998 he committed suicide.

Both Roberts and Fashanu are now defined in the public consciousness almost exclusively through the prism of their act in coming out. Their respective decisions totally robbed them, both in life and death, of the right to be viewed as whole, complex, multi-faceted people.

The goal of the AFL players who participated in the campaign is to show that the AFL is a welcoming space; the kind of environment that almost certainly did not exist for Fashanu and Roberts.

If that is a factor that eventually leads to a player coming out, I can only hope that we all see it as simply another person in the community telling their unique story.

Dr Pippa Grange is general manager, culture and leadership, for the AFL Players Association.


Difference the key

- letter 180510

FOR all Pippa Grange's arguments that the AFL's anti-homophobia campaign is not about urging players to come out (Comment, 17/5), she has missed the point about the need to foster the coming out of AFL players and others in high-profile positions.

The only reason Ian Roberts is remembered for coming out more than for his stellar rugby league career is because he is the only player to come out - because it is seen as different.

Homophobia will truly recede in all its ugliness when it is no longer different to be gay; when every gay man or woman, be they your A-grade celebrity, professional sportswoman or local plumber, does not need to hide their sexuality.

The day that there are 30 or 40 out AFL players may still, unfortunately, be a long time away. But if it ever happens, and across the board in society, we will truly move away from one of the many discomforts about those we see as different from us to accepting them for who they are.

Paul Bugeja, Caulfield North

Why coming out is still a big deal

- letter - 190510

THE fact that Pippa Grange (Comment, 17/5) diminishes the importance of coming out as an ''obsession'' highlights the gap in understanding in the sporting community.

I am pleased that organised sport has made steps to recognise difference in marginalised communities. However, I would save the back-patting for a time when sports media and celebrities no longer mock gay and transgender people on television and there are at least more than a few token examples of gay men and women in sport.

Take reporting of the Equal Love rally (''Passion gets political as gays voice choice for marriage'', theage.com.au, 16/5). The rally was a success, with large numbers turning out. The online report threw in a few clangers about political pashing and ''spangled, glittery ribbons'' that seemed to patronise the protesters and diminish the cause. Until such innuendo is stamped out in all forms of media, including skits on footy shows and the like, the importance of sports celebrities ''coming out'' as role models will remain.

Anthony Benedyka, North Melbourne

AFL distances itself from gay claim

May 21, 2010 The Age article

Aker's coach rejects anti-gay slur

Western Bulldogs coach Rodney Eade rejects Jason Akermanis' claim that gay footballers should stay in the closet.

FOOTY changing rooms would be a safe and accepting place for an ''out and proud'' AFL footballer, coaches and the league said yesterday - rejecting claims to the contrary by Jason Akermanis.

The row fired up on the day a new report revealed the extent of homophobia in team sport in Australia.

In a Herald Sun column, Akermanis said the AFL was not ready for homosexual players and that they should ''forget about'' coming out. ''I believe it would cause discomfort in that environment should someone declare himself gay,'' he said.

Akermanis defended his remarks, telling Channel Nine that he was not homophobic but it would be unsafe for a player to come out in the AFL.

He said he had no problem with gay footballers, saying he knew a gay player in Queensland who was ''a terrific guy'' and ''tough and courageous''. ''I'm ready. I'm fine with it all.''
Bohdan Abrat has suffered discrimination when playing sport.

Western Bulldogs coach Rodney Eade denied that homosexual players would be unsafe if they were to come out, and the club distanced itself from Akermanis's comments.

''[The comments were] certainly not reflective of what we think as a club,'' Eade said.

Sydney coach Paul Roos described Akermanis's comments as ''reasonably irresponsible''. ''If it had have been written in 1943 or something like that, you could have been forgiven. But in 2010, to hear something like that is just bizarre.''

No AFL player, past or present, has publicly stated he is homosexual.

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 said.

AFL Players Association general manager of culture and leadership Pippa Grange helped organise the association's campaign against homophobia. Dr Grange, a psychologist, said she did not like what was published, but ''at least people are talking about it''.

Former NRL star Ian Roberts, Australia's first top-level rugby league player to declare his homosexuality, expressed dismay. Writing today in The Age sport section, Roberts says the argument by Akermanis that ''straight players should be nervous about gay players in the showers is just plain embarrassing - for him''.

Olympic swimmer Daniel Kowalski, who has outed himself as gay, told Triple M: ''I'm disappointed, I'm mad, I'm angry, I'm sad.'' He also spoke at the launch of a Victoria University report into homophobia in sport.

The report, which surveyed 307 gay men and women, found they were reluctant to out themselves to teammates because there was an ''unsafe, unpredictable, isolating and intimidating'' culture. Nearly half were not out as gay to anyone and 42 per cent had experienced homophobic abuse in sport. .

Bohdan Abrat, 34, welcomed the report, saying he had experienced discrimination in school and beyond when playing sport. ''I've tended to not participate in team sports because of the pressure that's put on you to conform to being a straight male.

''I used to find it extremely difficult at high school to fit into the cricket team even though I absolutely loved cricket because I was told I threw like a girl. He plays netball now, which he finds more inclusive.

With AAP
The Age editorial no.2 210510

In the locker room, still in the closet

May 21, 2010

(Akermanis: 'Stay in the closet'

Western Bulldogs star Jason Akermanis courts controversy with comments on homosexual footballers.)

HOMOSEXUALITY and sport are still mostly seen as incompatible concepts, at least in the same sentence. As closet doors have swung open in most sectors of Australian society, and as people who declare their sexual preferences are acknowledged and made welcome, locker rooms remain a bastion of heterosexuality as far as players in mainstream sports are concerned. As the Western Bulldogs' Jason Akermanis wrote in yesterday's Herald Sun, the world of AFL football, with its entrenched masculine culture, is not yet ready for players to come out. Akermanis did not say this crudely or unkindly, but from a realistic perspective: change will happen, he says, but only over time, as prejudices evolve into acceptance.

Two developments this week provide encouraging indications that such changes are under way, if gradually. On Monday, the International Day Against Homophobia attracted positive reactions from the sporting world, particularly the AFL players who sent a message promoting tolerance and diversity. This was followed yesterday by the release of a report into the experiences in sport of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-gender people in Victoria.

The report, Come Out to Play, is funded by Victoria University, VicHealth and the Asia Pacific Outgames Legacy Fund. Its findings are hardly surprising: despite extensive shifts in wider social attitudes to minority sexual groups, the ''existence, experiences and needs of [these people] within sport have largely been ignored''; because of what the report calls implicit and explicit discrimination, such people are ''isolated and effectively silenced''. It recommends creating, at club level, more inclusive environments, encouraging early sporting development through physical education and school sport, and the provision of wider data to allow for more accurate assessment and statistics for future reports.
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As necessary, timely and informative as this report is, it can only go a certain distance: it identifies a systemic problem - what one could call the silent minority - within all sport, but does not, and cannot, go further than saying why or how this has to change. It is not simply enough for players to declare their sexuality. As Pippa Grange, the AFL's general manager, culture and leadership, wrote in The Age on Monday, coming out could still stigmatise a player as ''someone who is not like us'', at the expense of that person's actual playing ability. Real progress comes with the shifting of a collective mindset.


Live an honest life

letter 210510

ANOTHER day, another person associated with the AFL demonstrating that homophobia is alive and well in sport regardless of campaigns pushing for acceptance: Jason Akermanis's comments that somebody coming out in the AFL would not be safe or healthy for the club and that such an admission ''could break the fabric of a club''.

What about breaking the fabric of a society that needs to recognise difference? It is time to start fostering a real environment of support by singling out homophobic behaviour in clubs rather than leaving players to live in fear of living an honest life.

Anthony Benedyka, North Melbourne

Stay in your cave Aker, we're happier out of the closet

- article in The Age
May 21, 2010

(Gay swimmer: My biggest regret

Former Olympic swimmer Daniel Kowalski says he should have come out while he was still an elite athlete.

Pressuring teammates to hide their sexuality is downright dangerous.)

THE AFL's Jason Akermanis doesn't just want gays to stay in the closet. He wants them to barricade every door, throw away the key and quietly retreat into the inky darkness.

Well here's some news I hope reaches your cave, Jason: pretending it's not there does not make it go away.

The AFL is the only major sports code in the world that has never had any player - current or past - come out as gay. The fact is, and surely this comes as no surprise, there are gays in the AFL. "There are a couple in particular that I've known quite well," Eddie McGuire told DNA Magazine in March. "They've nodded to me and I've winked to them."

And then there's Jason Akermanis. The perennially peroxided Western Bulldogs player yesterday wrote in the Herald Sun that gays should not be seen or heard in his sport.

"I believe the world of AFL footy is not ready for it," he said. His reasons? The potential media coverage, his discomfort in the locker room and, well, his discomfort in the locker room.

It's 2010 everywhere but the AFL. Forcing people to hide their sexuality is mentally unhealthy, psychologically damaging and downright dangerous.

Stop clenching your towel, Jason, and think how difficult it must be for the teammates you're pressuring to hide their real sexuality, lead double lives and pretend to be something they're not. All because you think it "could break the fabric of a club". Surely the constant worrying, second-guessing and forced lies of closeted players would affect the fabric of a club more. And it's clearly not a very strong fabric if one player's honesty could tear it all down.

What would it mean if a high-profile AFL player came out as gay? To some, it's the difference between a comfortable and uncomfortable shower. But to a questioning gay teen, it could be the difference between life and death. Ask the Ian Robertses and Matthew Mitchams of this world, and they will show you drawers full of letters of the lives their coming-out stories have helped to save.

Having an openly gay player will not affect the quality of his game, or the strength of a team. The real elephant on the field is a not-so-thinly disguised layer of homophobia.

Perhaps Jason could jump into the closet and see what the view's like from there: hide away your partner, don't mention life off the field, concoct and remember the lies. It's super fun, huh? Now try to play to your full potential, and try to tell me having a closet full of skeletons is good for the game.

But what about the gay players in all of this? The ones reading Jason's comments and going deeper into denial, fear and loneliness. These are the heroes who just want to play a sport they love but are being punished by ignorance from within their own ranks.

And that's all that Jason's comments yesterday were: homophobic, fuelled by fear and hideously self-obsessed. If they're principles the AFL stands for, let's start on its coffin.

Taking Jason's argument to the next illogical conclusion, gays shouldn't be allowed to come out in any masculine environment. Why not make it any sport with a change room? The army? Schools? All of a sudden, his cave is looking very inviting.

It doesn't have to be this way. Take Welsh rugby union legend Gareth Thomas, who came out last year. In an arguably more masculine environment than the AFL, when Gareth told his Cardiff Blues teammates, they patted him on the back and said they didn't care. But Gareth had to battle depression and suicidal thoughts to get there. "I became a master of disguise and could play the straight man down to a tee, sometimes over-compensating by getting into fights or being overly aggressive because I didn't want the real me to be found out," he told Britain's Daily Mail.

"It's been really tough for me, hiding who I really am, and I don't want it to be like that for the next young person who wants to play rugby, or some frightened young kid."

This is not about Jason Akermanis and his Neanderthal stance. This is about the AFL players quivering at the thought of coming out due to unnecessary fear and pressure from inside the football bubble.

To whoever the AFL players are who will one day find the inner peace to smash through Jason's shut door, let me be the first to salute you.

Tim Duggan is the co-founder of the gay and lesbian website SameSame.com.au


Coming out is not hell, it's being honest to oneself and teammates

May 21, 2010 The Age

WHAT was Jason Akermanis thinking? The thing that frustrates me about his comments regarding gays is what he says is of no benefit to anyone. His opinion - on something he knows nothing about - is a waste of time.

I don't know what motivated him to say what he said. Maybe he is just plain stupid, or perhaps he was just making a grab at some more notoriety for himself. He's coming up to retirement, he's got a regular gig on radio, so he may just be looking at getting more gigs for the future.

But heaven help us if he succeeds this way. What he appears to be saying is: ''Look, it's OK to be gay, if you really must be, but keep it to yourself if you're an AFL player. You'll only make your life hell if you come out.'' And that is just plain madness.

First of all, Akermanis, if one of your teammates is gay - and at least one will be - think about the message you have sent him. If he was thinking about being honest about the person he is, that would be a compliment to his teammates, but you've just hammered home every doubt that was holding him back.

What you're saying, Akermanis, is: ''Keep that stress and anxiety, because where you are now is better than if you open up. If you open up, it'll be a million times worse.''

That is just plain ignorant; pure knuckle-headed stuff. He doesn't give his teammates - and the vast majority of AFL players, I'm sure - the credit they deserve. I would be surprised if any of them want to stand next to him and support what he has said. Even if any of them did think the same, they would surely realise it would be the wrong thing to say, and keep quiet. Akermanis should have realised that. He has shown his lack of sensitivity and understanding. He has shown us a lot more about himself than he would like, if he thought about it.

His suggestion that straight players should be nervous about gay players in the showers is just plain embarrassing - for him. Does he honestly think players come off the field after a hard game and want to get it on in the showers? That is such a gratuitous comment. When I came out, in the mid-1990s, it was the worst-kept secret in the game anyway. But I was already well accepted, and coming out didn't change much.

Imagine if Akermanis had made comments equally insensitive about Aborigines, or about a particular religion. He would have been run out of town by now. The fact some people still tolerate others making fun of, or being ignorant of, gay people is annoying, but hopefully we'll get there.

If Jason Akermanis thinks he is a spokesperson on homosexuality for AFL players, or society in general, he is sadly mistaken. My suggestion to him is this: Start making sense.

Ian Roberts played rugby league for Manly, Rabbitohs, North Queensland, NSW and Australia in the 1980s and '90s. He was the first NRL player to announce that he was gay


Tackle homophobia

- letter 220510

RECENT comments by Jason Akermanis suggesting that sport is not yet a safe place for players to come out are backed up by a report by Victoria University's Caroline Symons, which found that 42 per cent of respondents had experienced verbal homophobia and that more than a quarter of men said there were sports they would like to play but didn't because they feared discrimination.

It is clearly time for governments, sporting bodies and the community to once and for all challenge homophobia in sports in a lasting way.

Do we need sports players coming out? Not unless and until it is safe for them to do so. For that to occur, we need to make sure the whole community lessens the burden.

Akermanis's message and Symons's research should sheet home to the government and community that much more needs to be done to make sport safe, and this means committing the necessary funding and resources to permanently tackle homophobia.

Until then, none of us should even think about parking our butts on the interchange bench, until men's culture in sport, and masculinity in general, is challenged and changed.

Greg Adkins, Anti Violence Project of Victoria, Melbourne


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90 years old, political gay activist, hosting two web sites, one personal: http://www.red-jos.net one shared with my partner, 94-year-old Ken Lovett: http://www.josken.net and also this blog. The blog now has an alphabetical index: http://www.red-jos.net/alpha3.htm