President of the queer-run footy fan club Rainbow Crows Brett McAloney says the AFL needs to take action against homophobia.
Rainbow Crows have initiated an online petition asking the AFL to do more to support the queer community.
The petition asks for mandatory diversity inclusion training for players and staff, as well as strengthened anti-discrimination policies.
Mr McAloney recalls a fellow footy fan being heckled at an AFLW game.
“We had a Crows member last year, who is lesbian, and they were called a f****t twice in one particular game last year, which was really upsetting” he says.
“One of the people who called it out was actually a mother who was with young children at the time.
“There were multiple incidents where the homophobic comments were addressed to security at the stadium and unfortunately the security didn’t act upon it.”
Australia has shared in celebrating the FIFA Women’s World Cup run of the Matildas, a team with a considerable amount of openly queer footballers.
Matildas captain Sam Kerr has been heralded as a role model for women and queer people alike.
Men’s AFL, however, has not had an openly gay player, an ABC Four Corners investigation reported last week.
President of Curtin University Wesley Football Club Michael Searle says LGBT+ players who come out would carry a heavy burden.
“You’d get plenty of eyes on you, which someone might not want, which is why they might not be coming out. But I’m sure it would probably be known within their teams. I know there’s probably a reluctance to be the first” he says.
Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo has already experienced both the turmoil and the blessings of coming out, saying he ‘sees death threats as a positive’.
Brett McAloney says the AFL has a long way to go before players can feel comfortable coming out as gay.
“There are still so many steps that need to be taken before we get to the place where players are comfortable to just be able to be themselves” he says.
“So when a player gets ready to come out it needs to be a much safer environment than it currently is.
“It’s not about the coming out and making a statement. It’s the fact that those players have to live a life of lies. They have to pretend to be something that they’re not.”
Mr McAloney says any visibility will be hugely impactful.
“You don’t see gay players with their partners on social media. You don’t see gay players attending AFL ceremonies with their partners. That’s the sort of thing that we want to see, that’s when we’ll know that we’ve made that difference, when we can see that level of representation,” he says.
Team Perth is a network of queer inclusive sports clubs in WA.
Their president Justin Barnes says AFL teams need to put more work into creating a safe environment for queer players within the sport.
“If you look at organisations like the West Coast Eagles or Fremantle Dockers, those sorts of organisations really need to be more outwardly inclusive to make their people feel more included and that includes LGBTQ clubs, training for their team that includes the language used in the locker room, not just on the field,” he says.
“They need to start now. They need to associate themselves with LGBTQ+ plus sporting organisations like our member organisations, and they need to start running those programs, educating not just their committees, their boards, but also the players to understand that it is a safe place and that homophobia and homophobic language will not be tolerated.
“When people are more comfortable with themselves, they’re more successful at playing sport.”
The Rainbow Crows are calling for AFL clubs to participate in a pride-themed match, once sensitivity training has been enforced.
“That’s one of the things that we would like to see happen in the long run, but we also recognise that it’s actually very important that that’s it’s not the first step for inclusion but rather a fourth or fifth” he says.
“The important part before that is actually the conversations, the education and training of players and staff to make sure that they’re all on board. We don’t want a rugby scenario like what happened in Queensland when they tried to do a pride game but it was thrown on the players at the last minute, causing division” he says.