Saturday Night was the second annual St Kilda/Sydney swans LGBT #PrideGame, a night for football fans to celebrate diversity, show their support for marriage equality and make the LGBT community feel safe and welcome at the footy.
35,773 fans turned up to the Sydney Cricket Ground to watch the Sydney Swans defeat St Kilda by 42 points, but the rainbow coloured night was about far more than the footy.
“I think we’re celebrating diversity, we’re not just tolerating inclusion, we’re not just calling out homophobia, we’re celebrating diversity and what that actually means for the strength of our game,” St Kilda CEO Matt Finnis said at the Pride Game launch last Wednesday.
Last year’s St Kilda/Sydney Pride Game was believed to be the first pride match for a professional sporting competition in the world. The idea came from footballer, LGBT ambassador and activist, Jason Ball, who arranged for his Yarra Glen Football Club to hold the 2014 Community Pride Cup and worked with St Kilda to make the AFL pride match a reality last year.
In 2012 Ball became the first male Australian Rules football player at amateur or professional level to come out publicly. He led a petition asking the AFL to run the ‘No To Homophobia’ ad during the 2012 grand final, with the AFL agreeing to run the ad during the preliminary finals instead.
“Growing up, the footy club was the one place I thought I’d never be accepted. Homophobic language was routinely used on the field and it left me scared to be myself,” Ball said at last year’s pride game launch.
“Struggling in silence with my identity caused me so much heartache and pushed me to a very dark place. An event like this Pride Game would have made all the difference and given me confidence that I could belong.”
Sadly, Ball’s story of homophobia in sport mirrors with the experiences of many other LGBT Australians. According to the 2015 Out On The Fields report, the first international study conducted into the experiences of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people in team sporting environments:
87% of young gay Australians who play sport feel forced to completely, or partially, hide their sexuality
57% of participants think adult sport was not a safe place for LGB people who are open about their sexuality
80% of all participants and 82% of LGB participants said they have witnessed or experienced homophobia in sport
78% of participants believe an openly gay, lesbian or bi-sexual person would not be very safe as a spectator at a sporting event.
Add to this the Beyond Blue statistics on the mental health of LGBT Australians, which show that we have up to 14 times higher rates of suicide attempts than our heterosexual peers and are three times more likely to experience depression.
Ball wrote on his Facebook page today, “Last night’s #PrideGame was a celebration of diversity, where the AFL, Sydney Swans and St Kilda Football Club said loud and clear that LGBTI people are welcome in our great game. It’s the human element that helps communicate why pride is important, and by sharing our stories I hope that there was a young kid out there who felt a little bit more comfortable in their own skin.”
“No one should feel ashamed to be who they are. No one should feel like they have to choose between suicide or living a lie. If it can be OK to be gay in the world of footy, I promise it can be OK anywhere.”