By Senthorun Raj, NSW GLRL.
Only days after the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) and the GLORIA awards for homophobic comments made in public, AFL player Jason Akermanis announced that the “AFL is not ready” for openly gay players.
Akermanis suggested players should remain silent about their sexuality, sending out a message that being gay is not only disturbing but also something to keep hidden in sport.
What makes Akermanis’ comments particularly troubling is the implicit acceptance that homophobia is a part of football culture, and that it should be left unchallenged. Akermanis noted, “Some footballers think there’s something wrong with [gay] people, they have some kind of disease.” His solution was that players remain silent about their sexuality to avoid being seen as deranged or being the constant source of speculation in the locker room.
Part of the reason for such homophobic comments is bound up in the idea that AFL is a masculine sport, and masculinity is expressly aligned with heterosexuality.
If you are openly gay, then you are not only risking exclusion because you’re not heterosexual, but being gay undermines the legitimacy of masculinity in AFL, especially when it involves a “slap on the bum”. Such assumptions reveal the existing homophobic anxieties in some male-dominated sports around locker room behaviour and what it means if there are ‘out’ gay men involved.
Akermanis suggested that ‘coming out’ could “break the fabric of the club”. Such rhetoric around gays posing a threat to cohesion and discipline should be familiar, as it echoes the US debate surrounding gays serving openly in the military.
Education and respect for LGBT diversity in any sporting field, and the workplace more broadly, should be common practice.
When sport occupies such a privileged place in our national culture, and sporting stars are role models for young people, we must challenge the homophobic rhetoric that attempts to silence or repress being gay or lesbian.

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