The women’s AFL league held its inaugural pride match last month amidst a sea of rainbows. Jess Jones caught up with some of the women involved.

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The men’s AFL league has held two pride matches now, in an attempt to celebrate diversity and eradicate homophobia in the sport, and now the women’s league is following suit.

Women’s AFL (AFLW) recently held its first pride match, which saw the Western Bulldogs face off against the Carlton Blues, to champion both LGBTI people and women in football,

The Bulldogs approached the Blues with the idea of holding the match as a pride event. Both clubs have official pride supporter groups.

“They’re a part of the club that’s always celebrating and advocating for pride,” says Sophie Li, a Carlton player.

“I’m so excited that I can play and be a part of it all.

“It’s pioneering and it’s breaking down barriers in so many ways.

“As a gay person, I feel like it’s so amazing to be able to celebrate pride and to come together and celebrate the LGBTI community.”

Li says she expected the day to be huge, with fans dressed up to honour the community, and she wasn’t wrong. Rainbow flags dotted the VU Whitten Oval, with a live broadcast by JOY 94.9 and queer fans cheering from the stands.

“I knew there was going to be a lot of rainbows everywhere,” Li says.

Bec Dahl from Chicks Talkin’ Footy on JOY 94.9, the program that did the live broadcast for the game, says the pride match was organised because both clubs have a focus on inclusivity.

“They’re very big on supporting the community and supporting diversity,” she says.

She says many players are in same-sex relationships and are accepted by the AFLW community, even bringing their partners along to awards nights, in contrast to the degree of openness in the men’s league.

“It was quite refreshing to see all these girls with their female partners [at an awards night],” she says.

“It’s so different to how it is in the men’s game—could you imagine a man rocking up at the Brownlows with his male partner?”

Dahl says that last year’s headline-grabbing kiss between Erin Phillips and wife Tracy Gahan at an AFL awards gala was symbolic of how accepted queer women are in the game.

“It’s been like: this is us, we’re open, deal with it,” she says.

She attributes the openness about same-sex relationships in the women’s league to its relative newness.

“Men’s football has traditionally been very closeted, but we didn’t have women’s AFL until recently,” she explains.

“These girls have grown up playing football just in local leagues, and have never had to hide who they are. There hasn’t been that stigma because women’s football didn’t exist at an elite level.

“So my take is that this is just a natural progression of them always having been out.”

Dahl believes trans inclusion in sport is “the next frontier”.

“I think football is very comfortable with the G and the L, but I don’t think they’ve quite got their head around the T,” she says.

She thinks pride matches will continue to play an important role in demonstrating inclusion and diversity in the sport and in society.

“I’m hoping that pride games will help to increase acceptance even more,” Dahl says.

“We’re very excited.”

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