Australian hockey goalie Gus Johnston comes out, sparks more discussion on LGBT athletes & homophobia in sports (Bent News, 10/23/11)
Australian hockey player Gus Johnston came out, sparking a discussion of LGBT athletes and homophobia in the sports world; some resources for LGBT athletes and sports fans; and more in this edition of Bent News.
LGBT athletes & homophobia in sports
- @Blabbeando: VIDEO: Australian hockey player Gus Johnston: The reality of homophobia in sports http://t.co/ia8GP8HM #
- LGBT sports: @TheAdvocateMag reports Gay Games and Outgames discuss (or is it fight about?) possible event merge http://t.co/swgd5Txb #
Just a couple of days ago, Bent Alaska posted an LGBT History Month piece on Dave Kopay, the American football player who came out as gay in 1975, among the first if not the first professional athlete to publicly come out.
Last month, on September 13, champion Australian hockey goalkeeper Gus Johnston uploaded to YouTube a 12-minute video which he called “The reality of homophobia in sport,” explaining,
After many years of competing in hockey at an elite level, I’ve decided to share my story and experience with homophobia in sport. It’s taken me many years to find the strength to share it, but I hope that people find value in hearing it.
By all accounts, Johnston has received a lot of support after his public coming out. On September 25, Ben Hartung, chief executive officer of Hockey Victoria, challenged hockey clubs in Victoria to step up:
I would strongly encourage all affiliates to view the video, examine the issues that Gus discusses and consider ways in which you and your club members can make Hockey environments in Victoria more inclusive and welcoming for all participants. Unfortunately, research shows that sporting environments are a key site for homophobic harassment, discrimination and exclusion for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex (GLBTI) sports people. Hockey Victoria and all Hockey clubs have a responsibility to make the sport more inclusive and welcoming.
While uploaded last month, Johnston’s video is only now receiving much attention outside Australian hockey circles. Bent Alaska only learned about it yesterday through Twitter, after a lengthy story was published yesterday — “Playing it straight” by Nicole Brady (Sydney Morning Herald, 23 Oct 2011) — which takes Gus Johnston’s story as a jumping-off point for a deep-reaching discussion of gay/lesbian athletes and homophobia in Australian sports, and in the world of athletics in general.
By coming out, Johnston joins an exclusive club of elite Australian athletes. In our sports-obsessed nation, in which it is estimated 10 per cent of the population is homosexual, it is telling that only three other elite male athletes have come out: Olympic diver Matthew Mitcham, Olympic swimmer Daniel Kowalski and rugby league player Ian Roberts.
For lesbians the landscape is even more sparse. Of Australian women who have played sport at an elite level, only former Olympic cyclist Michelle Ferris has publicly talked about being gay….
Sport is the last bastion of public life in Australia in which same-sex attraction is kept under wraps. The last closet in which it is safer to stay silent than speak up. Elite Australian athletes who are gay or lesbian mostly play it straight.
Overseas, professional athletes are gradually starting to come out, among them English cricketer Steven Davies, former Wales rugby captain Gareth Thomas and retired American basketballer John Amaechi. Women such as Martina Navratilova and Amelie Mauresmo did not hide their sexuality during their tennis careers.
Johnston’s video seems to have been recorded off-the-cuff, but in it he’s astoundingly erudite. He plainly feels broken up about not coming out before his retirement from hockey last year. Says Johnston:
For twenty years, I worked extremely hard to become the best hockey player I possibly could — but also to be the best man I could be … So I fought and worked very hard to build a reputation that would provide a role model for others. [But] I never once stood up to anyone who spoke about someone behind their backs — talking about someone who they thought was a lesbian or talking about them in a joking way … I never stood up to my teammates … So I’m complicit.
Johnston speaks movingly about his love of hockey, and the seemingly irresolvable tension between his devotion to his sport and growing sense of himself as a gay man. Seeming to choke back tears, he says:
It never crossed my mind — it was never an option in my mind that I would ever leave the sport. But when you’re 25 and you’re afraid and you’re lonely, and you don’t have anyone to talk to, and you feel like there’s no escape from that … then, it’s not something that I’m proud of, but for a long time, there would barely be a week that would go by when I didn’t contemplate taking my own life.
Johnston included his email address at the end of his video, and according to the [Sydney Morning] Herald, received many hundreds of notes congratulating him on his fortitude in posting his video.
Beside being a goalkeeper, Gus Johnston is a Melbourne-based art director, writer, and filmmaker. He’s cofounder of Digital Pigeon — “a fast, easy way to send and receive big files” — and has a few videos on Vimeo. He’s on Facebook and can be followed on Twitter @gusjohnston.
Resources for LGBT athletes & fans
Associations and international LGBT games
- Federation of Gay Games (FGG). Organizers of the quadrennial Gay Games. Gay Games IX will be held in August 2014 in Cleveland and Akron, Ohio.
- Gay and Lesbian International Sport Association (GLISA). International association of LGBT sport organizations from around the world. Organizers of the Outgames. The third World Outgames will be held in Antwerp in August 2013.
- Wrestlers WithOut Borders (WWB). Chaired by former Anchorage Daily News sports editor Roger Brigham, who shared his story on Bent Alaska in May, and who now writes a sports column for the Bay Area Reporter.
- Outsports.com. National and international LGBT sports news and community. Outsports ran a feature in July 2011, “Outsports’ 100 most important moments in LGBT-sports history”.
- Advocate.com: Sports. The Advocate’s coverage of LGBT sports.
- Compete Network. Website for Compete, the gay sports magazine.
- GaySport.info. LGBT sports in Europe.
- @gaycivilrights: Dan Savage asks Herman Cain to choose to be gay to prove its a choice. http://t.co/HcYXpzcb (NSFW – lucky its Saturday) #
- Bent’s editor is writing a report so can’t go to #OWS in Anchorage today, but if you do heed @shannynmoore‘s advice: Dress warm. #