Following his standout performance at last year’s Olympics, Matthew Mitcham has smashed another glass ceiling to become the first openly gay athlete to pick up a major sponsorship deal.

For an undisclosed figure, Mitcham will represent Telstra at events throughout 2009.

Telstra has declared Mitcham a positive role model for all Australians.

That Mitcham, as the standout performer of Australia’s Beijing Olympic team, had to wait so long for a sponsor was unseemly. Having secured such a high profile sponsor shows the wait has been worth it, and the deal should sustain Mitcham in his bid to represent Australia in London in 2012.

Last year Telstra recognised the relationships of its gay employees who’ve married overseas, and changed 171 internal policies to give their partners equal treatment in work entitlements -” well in advance of the Federal Government’s own reforms.

GLBT Australians and their heterosexual friends and family will not forget Telstra’s foresight here. Research shows we are loyal customers who seek out gay-friendly brands and reward them when we see ourselves supported.

It remains to be seen how the rabid fringe of Australian Christianity will react to the deal. All too often brands who’ve been inclusive in their advertising and policies have been targeted by petty boycotts.

If they were to do so in this instance it would be a huge mistake. We Australians love our sports stars and have taken to Mitcham affectionately. However, common sense is not something that often prevails on the Religious Right.

The American Family Association organises boycotts against companies which include gay themes in advertising that hasn’t even shown in America. Last year Heinz was targeted for an ad including a same-sex kiss, this year it’s Pepsi -” both ads showed exclusively in the UK where civil unions have been reality for half a decade.

Heinz eventually pulled the ad, but the British public were not impressed with AFA’s interference in their affairs.

In 2005 Heinz produced an Australian ad where a father used Heinz products to explain to his son that it was OK to be gay -” luckily it flew under the radar.

They were not so lucky in 2007 when targeted by the Saltshakers, the group most likely to arrange a boycott here, when they were bizarrely accused of using transsexualism to sell baked beans.

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