Sean Towner did not come out till he was in his mid-20s. BeyondBlue ambassador and former captain of the PEGS Football Club team in the Victorian Amateur Football Association, Towner grew up in a sporting family. 

“No one knew that I was gay,” Towner told Star Observer. “I was really terrified about telling anybody in my family, my friends network, about my sexuality because, going back twenty years or so, it was something that was fairly frowned upon.”

On the football field and the changing rooms, he was used to hearing other players utter words like ‘poof’, homo’ and ‘faggot’ derisively. 

“I always thought they’re not doing it to hurt me because they didn’t know that I was gay. But it sort of made me think that they don’t respect gay people and I didn’t think the players would respect a Captain they knew was gay,” said Towner. 

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“It really pushed me further and further into the closet. As a kid, the footy club was my happy place because I could forget about what was going on in my head and just play footy and that for me was the release that I always needed.”

Coming Out To The Team

Sean Towner and his husband Michael. Image: Supplied

As he grew up, his friends and teammates started bringing their girlfriends and wives to the footy club, something he thought he would never have. 

Towner has been open about his struggles with his sexuality and the impact that it had on his mental health, which was compounded by his alcohol use. 

It wasn’t until he met his now partner Michael, who was also going through his own struggles with anxiety and depression, that Towner found someone he could confide in and get support. 

They first became friends and then a couple. Towner decided to, without fanfare, bring Michael to the footy club as his partner, and was surprised at the support he received. 

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“Some players would still use those words, but then they would catch themselves saying that and go, ‘sorry’,” said Towner, adding that over the years there has been slow but steady progress in the culture on the field and in the dressing room. 

Coming Out To Family

Sean Towner. Image: Supplied

With his family, the coming out was more emotional than he expected it to be.

My mom was great. My dad took it in stride and was the most supportive person straightaway, giving me a big hug and a kiss. I think my husband may be their favourite kid,” revealed Towner.

“My brother started crying because  over the years he had, like big brothers do, teased little brother for being gay. He didn’t realise how much that was impacting my mental health because he had no reason to suspect that I was gay.”

The acceptance from family and his teammates, made him more confident about being open about his sexuality.

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Towner and Michael went public with their relationship and were also prominent spokespersons during the national marriage equality vote in 2017. 

Players Have A Moral Obligation To Young Fans

Asked about the recent controversy of seven Manly players refusing to wear the gay Pride jersey due to their religious and cultural beliefs, Towner said that the team management was partly to blame about the way they managed the issue. 

Towner’s message to the players is that they have a moral obligation to their fans. “If I look back to when I was 10 or 12 and if a player I looked up to said they did not want to wear the rainbow jersey because they did not agree with it, I would have been gutted and it would have driven me further into the closet,” said Towner, pointing out that young LGBTQI are at higher risk of suicide. 

Towner’s message to young LGBTQI kids is to focus on the positive and the fact that 13 other Manly players chose to happily wear the Pride jersey. 

“I was terrified to tell my family and my friends that I was gay. I was glad I did and I wish I had done it sooner because it would have made my earlier years a little bit less problematic,” said Towner.

 

For 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention call Lifeline on 13 11 14

For Australia-wide LGBTQI peer support call QLife on 1800 184 527 or webchat.



 

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