Ian Roberts, the first NRL player to come out as gay, has sent a powerful message to Israel Folau as the embattled rugby star fights for his career.

Appearing on Channel Nine to discuss the issue, Roberts made a powerful statement about the impact public homophobia has on young LGBTI people.

“I kind of…I do feel sorry for Israel,” Roberts said.

“But there are consequences to your actions, and reactions.

“I don’t say this lightly, what I’m about to say. The language I use is hard and it’s for a point, it’s to get that message across.

“There are literally kids in the suburbs killing themselves,” Roberts said, referring to high rates of LGBTI youth suicide.

“I say that with the greatest sense of respect, and I’m not implying that Israel’s responsible solely for that, please don’t take it that way.

“But it’s these types of comments and these off-the-cuff remarks, when you have young people and vulnerable people, kids in the suburbs, who are dealing with their sexuality…[who are] confused, not knowing how to deal with it.

“These type of remarks…they can and do push people over the edge.”

Roberts came out in 1995, having played for Manly, the North Queensland Cowboys and South Sydney, as well as representing New South Wales in State of Origin and Australia at an international level.

In 2017, he wrote to the NRL’s chief executive to ask for the league to endorse the Yes campaign in the postal survey on same-sex marriage.

Folau’s code of conduct hearing began on Saturday, and was expected to be finalised on Sunday before Rugby Australia announced it will continue on Tuesday.

Folau escaped sanctions last year, but his social media posts last month, which said “hell awaits” homosexuals and that legal reforms for trans and gender diverse people were a sign of “evil ways”, have seen Rugby Australia seek to tear up Folau’s contract.

If you or someone close to you is struggling and needs someone to speak to, you can contact one of these services:

Switchboard/QLife: 1800 184 527
Headspace: 1800 650 890
Beyond Blue 1300 224 636
Lifeline: 13 11 14

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