AN AFL footballer has labelled critics of tomorrow’s Pride Game as ridiculous, saying the ongoing existence of homophobia and transphobia in society proves why it is needed.

“I really hate it when people use arguments like that (why there is not a straight game). When it’s International Women’s Day and people say ‘why isn’t there an international men’s day?’. You’re not vilified for being a straight, heterosexual man, so you don’t need a round to celebrate that,” Tom Hickey, St Kilda Saints ruck told Star Observer .

“I find it a bit ridiculous when people say stuff like that because you know the chances of a lesbian or gay or trans person attempting suicide or (having) depression, is far greater than a straight person. So it is an issue in society, it is an issue where people don’t feel welcome to be who they are.”

Hickey has been named in the line-up against the Sydney Swans in the game’s inaugural Pride Game, which is aimed to promote inclusiveness in Australia’s most popular sport.

AFL footballers are expected to do volunteer community work while playing for their clubs and Hickey was recently announced as an ambassador for Stand Up Events – a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to “raising awareness for sexual and gender equality and challenge heteronormative thinking and behaviour in our society and our sporting culture” – and he is glad he can help out on an issue he is passionate about.

“We need to have a (Pride) round and we need it to support it and to tell people that it’s ok,” he said.

“People who are opposed to gay marriage, are totally on the wrong side of history. We want to be seen as being on the right side of history for this sort of stuff.”

Hickey, who has grown up with many gay mates, said not only is he proud his club has taken the lead in promoting LGBTI issues, but said it also makes sense the Saints are pioneers in inclusivity.

“Our (St Kilda’s) motto is ‘how I want to be’, and if you just take a walk down St Kilda it’s pretty much a place that everyone belongs. St Kilda is one of those places where the homeless rub shoulders with rich people, everyone feels welcome,” he said.

“If we want to be true to our name, St Kilda, we need to take a stand and say everyone’s welcome. And so it’s known for our core beliefs that you can be who you want to be, and be who you are and you should make no apologies for that.”

“I’m really proud of the club for doing it and it’s not until people have a personal connection with it that they understand the effect it (homophobia and transphobia) has on people.”

The 25-year-old understands the positive impact AFL players supporting LGBTI issues has not only LGBTI people, but the wider community.

“All we’re doing is putting on St Kilda polos and walking down a street (for Melbourne Pride), it’s nothing for us, but for what it means to see an AFL player is being an ally, it can make a great impact for the community and people really appreciate it

“It’s only a small thing we’re doing, but to other people, but for the LGBTI community it’s massive. It’s a statement to say it’s ok.”

Hickey is not the only St Kilda player to support the Pride Game, former Indigenous Saints legend Nicky Winmar – who became a national icon for lifting his jumper at a game to point to his skin colour after he had been on the receiving of racial slurs – sung the praises of the game alongside his gay son Tynan.

“I’m proud of my son,” he said.

“It was hard at first, but we’ve got to be there for our families and friends, and I think it’s very important that we’ve done this. He’s my boy, and I’ve got to stand up for his rights as well. I wasn’t there for all his life when he was growing up, but to be part of it now makes me proud of him. I am proud of standing up for my colour and culture and I’m glad my son is standing up for his gayness as well.”

Sydney Swans play St Kilda Saints at Etihad Stadium, Saturday August 13, 7.25pm.

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