Leading up to the Australian Football League’s annual Pride Match this Saturday, two of the St Kilda players competing have spoken about why they believe the environment within their club would now be supportive of any AFL player deciding to come out.
The third instalment of the AFL’s Pride Match series will be held this Saturday night at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne between St. Kilda and Sydney.
Speaking with Gay Nation, St. Kilda stars and Pride Game Ambassadors Sam Gilbert and Seb Ross were adamant the work their club and the AFL has done around the game being accessible to everyone, including the LGBTI community, means any player that was gay would feel welcomed within the club whether they decided to come out or not.
“As a straight footballer, I can’t really speak on behalf of any player thinking about coming out and their reasonings behind doing so or not,” Gilbert explained to Gay Nation.
“I can just hope that I’m playing my part, and the Saints more broadly, are doing everything we can to create an environment in which they feel supported.”
As yet the AFL has never had a current player come out as gay, although rumours have been rife for many years that some players have been close to the point of coming out publicly.
“It’s always going to draw a lot of attention when/if an AFL player publicly comes out as gay whilst playing,” said Ross.
“I think we’re in a position where we’ve created a safe environment for it to happen, but I don’t think that means we should be putting pressure on anyone to come out if they’re not ready.
Openly gay former Premier League soccer player Robbie Rogers has said locker rooms are, “like no place on Earth, where the most ridiculous homophobic things are being said there.” The St. Kilda players believe that is definitely a thing of the past in the AFL.
“I would say the AFL locker room is different to the way Robbie has portrayed a soccer locker room,” said Ross.
“If we were talking about a locker room maybe 30 or 40 years ago then maybe it’d be a different story.
“Back then words like ‘poof’ were thrown around willingly and I just don’t think we’re like that anymore.”
“I think maybe once-upon-a-time locker rooms were places where homophobic comments were common, but I can definitely say that doesn’t happen in our rooms now,” said Gilbert.
“The club as a whole has done a lot of work over the past four and a half years to make it a really inclusive and welcoming environment throughout the club and definitely among the playing group.”
This year’s Pride Match has the slogan ‘I’ll Stand By You’ stressing the importance of family and support networks among the LGBTIQ community.
Sam Gilbert, 31, believes that the AFL is a sport that can be and should be accessible to everyone, including those in the LGBTI community.
“Having people from all walks of life makes the game more diverse and representative of our community which only makes things better,” Gilbert said.
“I think all that anyone wants is to be treated like everyone else and that someone shouldn’t be defined by their race, gender, age or sexual preferences/identity.
“It really just comes back to treating everyone how you want to be treated and being kind to one another.”
Seb Ross, 25, said the AFL Pride Match is also important because it allows the LGBTI community to feel safe and welcome at the footy.
“The research that has been done since the first Pride Match in 2016 has shown that we’ve been able to provide that environment for the LGBTI community and we’re extremely proud to continue to be a part of that.,” said Ross.
“If we can give members of the LGBTI community the opportunity and place to share their stories and be heard by people who wouldn’t normally have that chance, why wouldn’t we?
“Personally, I think equality and inclusion are really important and I’m lucky enough to play for a club where these are central to everything we do.
“I’d just love to see as many members of the LGBTI community at the Pride Match this weekend. This weekend is a rare opportunity where it doesn’t matter who you go for it’s just about supporting the LGBTI community and seeing a great game of footy.”