I am going to come clean. I used to be homophobic. Not in a hatred sense, but in the colloquial manner, where you don’t realise your subconscious is doing the discriminating.
I would call someone a poof for doing something soft.
So casually do we attribute being a loser, weak, or wrong to homosexuality. We don’t even bat an eyelid. That’s a gay decision, ref. Stop being a homo and hit the bloke. I have done it. We have all done it. There are not many blokes involved in any of the football codes who can claim they are innocent of the same crime.
In fact, findings from the preliminary findings from the “Out on the fields” study into sport and homophobia showed that 74 percent of straight people had witnessed homophobia in a sporting context. Even worse, 25 percent of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals admitted that they were targeted personally. It needs to change.
For me, the change came when our rugby team came up against the Footscray Chargers, now playing in the Bingham Cup as Melbourne Chargers.
In the weeks leading up to the game, the average comment was the classy, “watch out for your arse in the scrums.” It was at fever pitch on the morning of the game.
The game itself was a bit of a thrashing. There were obviously quite a few Footscray boys who had not played before. Without trying to speak for them, I’m guessing having nowhere they would feel comfortable enough socially to play rugby probably has something to do with it.
The game was good and clean, but uneven. We then, as we do every team, invited them back to our sponsors’ pub for a post-match celebration. The Chargers were fun, social, and had a go at the boat race. They stuck around way longer than most teams. The homophobic that I didn’t know I had in me lost a bit more grip.
The breaking point come a weekend or two later. Instead of getting rid of the homophobia after the game, we had simply gone back to casual mode, but I think we convinced ourselves it was ok by excusing the Chargers from it.
A week after the chargers game, we were back at the pub, having a beer on a Saturday night as usual. One of our players summoned the rest of the leadership group and me to the smoking area. He came out to us. He was gay.
My heart sank almost as low as my stomach had dropped. Not only from the guilt I had felt, having put him through weeks of torture, but also the amazing bravery to come out to his own tormentors. He was shaking. We were silent. Then someone asked, “you’re still playing though, right?”
Ever since then, I have been so much more careful about what I say. Calling someone a poof, or saying something’s gay, it actually affects people who live beyond our own little straight, testosterone fuelled bubbles. They are good people. They play sport. That should be the only qualities needed to join a club, right?
This would never have happened to me if it weren’t for the Chargers. I realised you can be a heterosexual man in that environment without having to be homophobic. So good luck to all the teams who participated in the Bingham Cup (particularly the Chargers), hopefully, one day, you won’t need your own tournament to play rugby.