Sunday, 8 May 2011

Persistence is key

12 months ago an effort from one of the largest sports in Australian to raise awareness about homophobia drastically failed.

Well known Aussie Rules player Jason Akermanis wrote an editorial for the Herald Sun advising gay players to "Stay in the Closet".

He added: "Locker room nudity and homoerotic activities are normal inside footy clubs", but advised young gay players who are "thinking of telling the world [about their sexual orientation to] forget it."

The result of these words was to instantly put pay to the small steps taken by the
Australian Football League and its player association.

Indeed, former Aussie Rugby League star Ian Roberts - still the only male footballer from Australia's dominant sports to come out - told one magazine: "There are kids out there in the suburbs who are killing themselves because of comments like that."

It was the equivalent of Craig Bellamy or Scott Parker from penning a high-profile column in the Daily Mirror or Sunday People.

Any encouragement that ARL fans had to ditch its macho stereotypes was instantly screwed up and thrown in the bin.

It would have been very easy for the sport to shelve any plans to promote equality for a few years.

Yet, thanks to a small group of players, the issue of tackling homophobia is still alive.

In contrast with last year's high profile efforts, this year sees three players going into speak to clients of the national youth mental health foundation about the issue.

On May 17, the trio will attend an event for the day and judge a design competition with the theme "In my eyes, homophobia is out of bounds".

Their efforts have the support of 17-year-old Hannah Williams, who made national headlines in Oz last year after Ivanhoe Girls' Grammar School forbade her to take her girlfriend to the end of school party.

She said: "I've heard that a lot of guys believe that it's a lot easier for girls to come out because there are a lot of celebrity girls who are lesbian.

"Guys tend to stay in the closet for a lot longer and normally don't choose to come out unless something happens."

The Justin Campaign, which runs its own educational programme, praises these players and indeed the player's association for doing such work.

High profile media stunts are important to get word across and raise awareness about topics.

But, as has been shown, it can so easily go wrong, and ultimately has no impact on the very people suffering from accepting who they really are.

Yet these three players simply talking to young people about the issue will not only raise awareness but will have a deep impact on people clearly troubled. It could in fact save lives.

Substance over style, actions speak louder than words - let's ditch the cliches and just tackle an issue which has no place in any part of society.

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