Being a high school student in 1978, I have no recollection of the event that has since inspired the most colourful, exciting international festival in Australia -“ Mardi Gras.

Rural sport in the 1970s was more about not being branded a Nazi or a wog. The word faggot was only understood by readers of Dickens, and the lowest level on the social pecking order was the itinerant harvest workers’ children or the Aboriginal children who seemed to float in and out of the local town. Terminology began to include other minorities -“ and the worst a young boy could hear was being called a sissy, big girl or pansy.

Are children inherently cruel, or are they vocalising our deepest social prejudices, which they have absorbed through our actions, expressions and reactions? A generation of very mixed-up young people struggled with their identity, and suffered the indignity of public humiliation, even if the State did not prosecute them for their illegal sexual preferences.

Is sport fair and equitable to all? Do religion, ethnicity, sexual preferences, gender or age still create barriers to participation? Sadly, yes.

But let us rejoice in the achievements thus far. Anti-discrimination legislation, the adoption of coach, player and spectator codes of behaviour, acceptance of openly gay and lesbian sports people and sports clubs have significantly levelled the playing field over the past three decades.

Let us not forget to stand up for all that is fair, fun and frivolous in our sports, remembering that it was less than seven years ago that Matthew Hall won a case in the Victorian Equal Opportunity Commission allowing a HIV-positive participant to play in the AFL. In NSW it was further declared that a club was responsible for the actions of its players, whether they were paid to play or not.

Sporting administrators, coaches, clubs or players who in any way discriminate on the sporting field will find no sanctuary in the Australian courts. Though our players may encounter acts of aggression or verbal abuse, it really is time to hitch up our skirts and move gaily forwards to the challenges of coming out to play.

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