KUALA LUMPUR, May 1 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Sports should promote openly gay competitors to help others come out, LGBT+ rights activists said on Wednesday, after the second Australian sportsman in a month caused an online storm over an LGBT+ post.
James Faulkner’s Instagram photo of “dinner with the boyfriend”, with the hashtag #togetherfor5years, led to global media reports that he had become the first Australian cricketer to come out and a wave of supportive comments.
But the 29-year-old later clarified that the “boyfriend” was a house mate and Cricket Australia said Faulkner had made a “joke” that was “take out of context”.
“You should spend some time volunteering at one of the suicide prevention charities out there,” wrote Twitter user @wild0scar. “I suspect you’ve done serious harm turning ‘coming out’ into joke.”
The online backlash highlighted how difficult and rare it is for professional sportsmen and women to come out as gay, LGBT+ campaigners said, as sport is commonly seen as one area where homophobia and gender stereotypes persist.
Australian rugby fullback and devout Christian Israel Folau was set to lose a multi-million dollar contract in April after a social media post that said gay people would go to “hell” if they did not “repent”.
“It is still difficult for athletes to come out as homosexual due to the fear of discrimination, marginalisation and possibly accusation by their national sports body for tarnishing image,” said Suki Chung, an LGBT+ rights campaigner.
Athletes often keep their sexuality secret for fear that teammates, fans and coaches would look at them differently and that judges might give them poor scores because of their sexuality, said Chung of Amnesty International in Hong Kong.
A growing number of high-profile athletes have come out in recent years, such as British diver Tom Daley, as public acceptance of LGBT+ people grows in much of the world.
But it still takes courage.
“One big challenge is the lack of visibility of role models,” said Ryan Silverio of ASEAN SOGIE Caucus, an LGBT+ rights group based in Manila, although he said swimming, basketball and volleyball do have openly LGBT+ athletes.
“The LGBT+ community that play sports need more people to look up to, to be inspired into coming out and achieving their sporting goals.”
While the growing number of participants in the global Gay Games, which began in 1982, was proof of change and is helping to foster understanding and support, sports bodies should boost policies to end discrimination, LBGT+ advocates said.
Reporting by Michael Taylor @MickSTaylor; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org