I cried this week. It’s not that my team lost and I was a poor sportsman, or that my favourite enormous bratwurst was burnt on the BBQ.
One of my volleyball teammates invited me to his citizenship ceremony.
Let me set the scene. More camp and glamour than the six-star Longitude 131 tent glamp at Uluru. The staging area for the official City of Sydney oath-swearing, Hyde Park, was adorned with dignitaries Clover and Tanya. The immaculate Master of Protocol stood out like the Fairy Godmother. Yet Dante Israel Flores-Medina shone like a beacon in his fuchsia shirt and impeccable white suit. I ask forgiveness for confusing my Peruvian teammate with a mastermind in a Colombian cartel.
Israel arrived in Sydney in 2000, one of the trickle of international guests who responded to the call to witness the Olympic dream Down Under. He began playing volleyball and enjoying gay old Sydney town in 2002, first with the YMCA (where else?) Caringbah, and later with the UNSW.
A move from the ghetto to the eastern suburbs saw Israel and his partner deserted by friends who found it too far to travel to visit regularly.
Seeking to build a new circle of friends, Israel heard on the gayvine that there was a gay and lesbian volleyball club. I remember his first visit to Freezone. A stunning Latino who had all the basic skills for volleyball, the looks for the annual calendar and was a genuine, beautiful person. He joined our team a few weeks later as a fill-in and didn’t leave, playing nine seasons with us.
“Freezone was where I met my first Aussie Peruvian friends. I was accepted, challenged and supported by my team and the club. I love what my club has given me. Of course, I wanted them to witness my naturalisation,” he told me afterwards.
Israel is my friend, team member and someone whose journey is very close to my heart. It represents the crucial role our sports clubs and groups play in gathering the ‘newbie’ into a safe, friendly group. The common bond is not sex, dance music preference or lifestyle. The sporting environment is non-threatening and often the first place sought out by gay and lesbian people moving from rural areas or from overseas.
info: Team Sydney’s member clubs and the volunteers who run them provide vibrant, healthy choices for young and old alike. Visit www.teamsydney.org.au