21 July 2014


Since Ian Thorpe emerged from his 20-year-old closet there have been several articles written, discussions on radio and television, and much interest shown from some sporting bodies about one of the areas most covered in shame over its ongoing stance on homophobia.

On a previous blog, some while ago, I posed the question as to how is it possible that in a sports code where there are somewhere between 1200 and 2000 players, administrators and others associated with the game, not one person has emerged as a gay, lesbian, transgender person involved in Australian Football League - or as it is popularly known - AFL?

This transcends statistical data and suggest that there are many people associated with AFL living in a closet because of the inherent homophobia, sexism and misogyny associated with that code.

Swimming and tennis have produced some notable exceptions, but that is what they are, exceptions.

Where are all the others, and why are they so intimidated and fearful of openly being who they are.

An example of how homophobia is affecting other members of our communities emerged in a report in a paper a few days ago from a man who appeared in a news item about HIV and AIDS, and who was verbally abused in a shop when some homophobes recognised him from the television programme which had carried the item about HIV and showed this young man. Here is the article:

Article in August 2014 edition of Star Observer
Mitchell Payne
Mitchell Payne
A FEW weeks after Mitchell appeared in a short documentary film about HIV stigma, two men started verbally abusing him while he was grocery shopping.
“I was in the fruit and veg section looking at apples,” he said, explaining the men were speaking loud enough to know Mitchell could hear them.
“They said, ‘isn’t that the guy from the AIDS documentary?’ I thought, okay, here we go…”
The men then said the apples would be spoiled because he had touched them. Finally, much louder again, one of them said: “Dirty AIDS cocksucker.”
“I could believe it was happening, to be honest. I basically just left. I didn’t say anything. Looking back I kind of wish I’d turned around and confronted these people, but in the moment, all I did was thought, I have to leave right now,” Mitchell said.
“Because not only had these people belittled me, they’d also said it loud enough for other people to hear… I didn’t really want to know if anyone was looking at me, because I felt the size of a peanut, just so tiny and insignificant in that moment.”
After so long being out and open as a gay man living with HIV, Mitchell had almost forgotten how deeply hurtful it could be to confront such direct stigma and abuse.
**This article first appeared in the brand new August 2014 issue of the Star Observer, which is now available in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Canberra


The next article of interest was in the Sunday Age of 20 JULY 2014 and was about homophobia and sport - as so many homophobia articles are:

Homophobia, and the courage to speak out

July 20, 2014 Sunday Age

Gus Johnston

Former Victorian hockey player Gus Johnston: 'Let's call a spade a spade.'

Photo: Craig Sillitoe  WEB SITE:    www.csillitoe.com

Most people don’t think they’re homophobic. But let’s call a spade a spade. Homophobia is just a fancy word for fear, hate, anger, vilification, discrimination and prejudice. It’s easy for us all to get distracted by the specifics of its definition, but like the sadly commonplace “I’m not racist, but ...”, the frequently pleaded disclaimer, “Oh, I’m not a homophobe” is the all-too common defence of someone who has, in fact, just done or said something completely homophobic. 
Broadcaster Brian Taylor probably doesn’t see himself as homophobic, but yet, last weekend he called Harry Taylor “a big poofter” by way of demeaning him. If I was a young person coming to terms with my sexuality, and fearing that others would not accept me, what specifically am I supposed to think about Brian’s remarks?
As a gay man, I’m ashamed to admit I, too, have been complicit in homophobic behaviour. In the past, when others have used language or done homophobic things around me, how did I respond? Well, quite simply, I didn’t. It was easier to just laugh it off and avoid the social awkwardness of that kind of confrontation. Or probably, in my case, the silence stemmed from a fear that others might assume I was gay - which in fact I was - if I were to call out homophobia. And it’s that kind of silence in sport that allows homophobia to exist.
It’s easy to shoot this behaviour down when it’s broadcast on television, but what about at training, in the locker room or in the crowd where there are no cameras, nor wider public scrutiny. That’s where the damage is done and the problem festers.
I used to play hockey. I was a goalkeeper for 20 seasons. I wasn’t the best, but I was pretty good. I represented Victoria and held a scholarship with the Victorian Institute of Sport for a number of years. I played more than 200 State League One games for the Essendon Hockey Club (winning two premierships and two Best and Fairests along the way). I loved, and still do love, hockey. And like any true love, I made irrational and unconditional sacrifices for my sport. I wanted to be the greatest I could, and I wanted my sport to love me as much I loved it.
But for the best part of 20 years I harboured the secret of my sexuality. I exiled myself from a lot of social activity. I made it part of me. I pretended I had better things to do after the game. But in truth I often just didn’t want to put myself in social situations where relationships or my love life may become a topic of conversation.
Not only did I love my sport, I also loved how it made me feel; important, triumphant, invincible, fearless, a part of something bigger. But the sad reality was that behind closed doors I was sad, lonely, depressed and often afraid. For me it was some strange kind of purgatory, I felt trapped and alone inside a team full of my closest friends. While I began to contemplate suicide on a regular basis, I also continually reminded myself that I couldn’t die, because, well, I’d be letting my teammates down. So I just kept my head down.
At the time, I could think of nothing worse than being ostracised by my sport or being excluded in any way. And with homophobic language so rife, what was I to think? Nothing told me otherwise. It seemed safer to assume I would not be accepted, than to risk it all. Many of my teammates would use derogatory and homophobic language, never imagining anyone within earshot was directly affected by it. But they were. I was. 
I’m not alone either, the recent survey "Out on the fields", which was commissioned by the organisers of the Bingham Cup - the World Cup of gay rugby - tells us just how prevalent hostility toward gay and lesbian participants is within sport. That bullying and exclusion are commonplace. 
In late 2010, at the same time as my retirement from playing, Hockey Victoria, the sport’s governing body, quietly began an initiative called Fair Go, Sport! It was a project done in collaboration with the Victoria Human Rights Commission with funding from the Australian Sports Commission. Even though it was a relatively small initiative designed to promote gender and sexual diversity in our sport, it ultimately had a profound impact on my life. This act of progress helped me realise I could do what I needed to. And so I came out. Posting a video on YouTube to share my experiences and lend my voice to the conversation and send a message.
I wanted to send a message of hope, that we can all overcome homophobia. And even 2½ years since I came out, I don’t think that message has changed. Whether a player, administrator, fan, coach, the greatest swimmer the world has ever known or just a hockey player from Melbourne, with decency, love, respect and the courage to speak up, we all have the power to bring homophobia to an end. Making sport, and the world, a better place.
Gus Johnston played hockey for Victoria.


The following article in The Age of 14 JULY 2014 on Ian Thorpe emerging from his closet is probably a story that has a long way to go before it is played out. At the same time as this story appeared, there was an article by Kerryn Phelps in the Sydney Morning Herald, and judging by the numerous posts on the bottom of the article, there were very many angry people out there against what she had written. If you look up these articles on the web you will be able to decide what your own opinions are on the issue of sportspeople coming out and the timing thereof, but the conclusin must be that there is a great deal of homophobia in our communities!

Money aside, Thorpe's revelation will pay dividends

July 14, 2014

Andrew Webster

Chief Sports Writer, The Sydney Morning Herald


The truth: swimmer Ian Thorpe being interviewed by Michael Parkinson. Photo: Channel Ten
As a gay man, I couldn’t be happier for Ian Thorpe. As a journalist, I have misgivings of his outing as a homosexual with legendary interviewer Michael Parkinson, and its timing.
It does not rest well that Thorpe has decided to talk publicly about his sexuality as part of a reported $550,000 deal with Channel Ten that will see him call swimming at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow later this month.
That deal was hatched by his agent James Erskine, who also manages Parkinson. 
Thorpe has had the opportunity to set the record straight on many occasions.
Numerous biographies - authorised and not - have been penned about his life and career. He’s done documentaries, tell-all interviews, comical press conferences sponsored by Virgin declaring his comeback to the pool.
His message from the Parkinson interview has been cheapened by the fact it is part of a lucrative deal - and comes following reports in recent years of Thorpe’s financial troubles.
The chance to set the truth free, with dignity, has been there for Thorpe for years.
Indeed, the first chance Thorpe had to tell the truth came in 2003, when he sat down with my late, great editor at Inside Sport,Greg Hunter.
After finishing his long tenure at the monthly sport's magazine, Greg was thrust into the role of biographer, and then spent a year toiling over Thorpe’s story.
Greg was the ultimate professional and perfectionist. His editing of profile pieces often left this reporter on the verge of tears.
He was torn about the chapter concerning Thorpe’s sexuality. Specifically, he was concerned about a “Cheryl Kernot” situation.
In 2002, the former leader of the Democrats had published her biography, but it had failed to include one particular detail.
Soon after, Laurie Oakes revealed in his weekly column in The Bulletin that Kernot had failed to mention her extramarital affair while leader of the Democrats with former Labor frontbencher Gareth Evans.
But Greg’s concern went deeper than that.
We discussed Thorpe, at length, on numerous occasions, not least because I was coming to terms with my own sexuality. Greg had been a rock in this time, such was his altruistic manner.
Is Ian Thorpe gay? So many people had asked me, as a sports reporter, if I knew the answer.
I didn’t know. I was staring at the ceiling at night wondering why I was and how I was going to tell my father.
I just knew that if he was gay, and was denying it as much as I had, grappling with the truth, then I felt sorry for him.
In the end, Greg looked Thorpe in the eye, believed his version of events, and then passionately argued with anyone who dared to suggest the young swimmer was anything but heterosexual.
After the book was published, Thorpe told Alan Jones on 2GB he hadn't read it. It subsequently tanked.
The myth of Thorpe's heterosexuality was also perpetuated by many of his minders at that time. They fed the line that Thorpe was very much a ladies' man, in every sense, and laughed at suggestions otherwise.
Maybe those minders were protecting the pot of gold otherwise known as Thorpe Inc. 
Thorpe told Parkinson the fear of commercial reprisals stopped him, in part, from coming out sooner.
He is right.
Ian Roberts, the retired rugby league player who came out in 1995, often laughs at the mere notion of the “pink dollar”.
Whatever misgivings you or I might have about Thorpe's paid coming-out, it should not diminish the importance or significance of our greatest Olympian telling "the world" that he is gay.
Many have shrugged their shoulders in recent days and said, "So what? How is Thorpe’s sexuality anyone’s business? Who cares?"
Olympic diver Matthew Mitcham is right: Thorpe’s public declaration will save lives.
It will make it easier for those who are struggling to come to terms with who they are and where they fit in this world. Thorpe remains outrageously popular, despite his indifference towards being a public figure.
Of all the commentary written in the last few days, two lines stand out.
Said comic Tom Ballard in his column for Fairfax Media on Sunday: “For those who've heard this news and shrug and casually asks ‘who cares?’, I'd simply answer ‘15-year-old closeted me’. Scared, little, questioning Tom Ballard would have cared a lot if nine years ago he'd seen swimming champion and national treasure Ian Thorpe on the news, proudly identifying as a successful sportsman and a bloke who liked blokes.”
And this, from Rob Stott at news.com.au, about criticism that Thorpe has “lied” to us for years, including in his 2012 biography: “He was on his own deeply personal journey. A journey that even the most open-minded, tolerant person can’t understand until they’ve been through it themselves.”
That Thorpe is dealing with this now, at the age of 31, illuminates how far Australian society still has to go, and it extends beyond the Prime Minister's backward thinking about same-sex marriage.
Because it's not easy taking a stand - whether you are paid for it or not.
A month after I came out on the front page of The Sydney Morning Herald late last year in response to Knights player Ryan Stig's comparison between homosexuality and the work of the devil, I was having a beer at a Surry Hills pub.
A Sydney FC game was on that night, and many of its fans had filled the bar.
“Webster, you f..king faggot,” sneered one of them as I walked outside.
When I spun around and came back in and asked who'd said it, nobody had a word to say.
Who cares? I do.


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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