The day after the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Act (2013) was constituted, Labour MP Louisa Wall—a former national rugby and netball representative—expressed her joy: “It reminded me of a World Cup tournament… it’s been quite challenging, but it got more and more intense as we got to the final, and last night was the final!” Her words are telling of a simple truth: sport is ingrained across every facet of New Zealand society—sexuality and gender identity being no exception. There is a more uncomfortable truth here: LGBTQ and sporting communities have some way to go in making sports—as a catch-all phrase—a welcoming environment for every New Zealander.
The movement has been progressive but in no way exponential. Super Rugby players can wear rainbow laces and Steve Tew can say Kiwis are ready for a gay All Black. It is all positive action. Yet 76% of people still think an openly gay, bisexual, or lesbian person would not be very safe as a spectator at a sporting event. Kieran Smyth can say on national radio: “Are you telling me that you really are going to have him play for that tight pants, weird singlet, bloody gay, homo sport?” (in reference to AFL). Fool ourselves as we may, there is still some way to go to an even ledger. The importance of continuing to fight for equality is summed up by Toni Duder of Rainbow Youth: “Our community has really high rates of negative health statistics… So opening up the platform of sports, and saying ‘well we want to be inclusive and creating some visibility for these young people,’ I think will open some amazing doors.”
The LGBTQ community should, then, be on an equal footing. Within some parts of New Zealand’s collective psyche there persists some strange justifications for homophobia, not least some strange ideas as to the definition of ‘political correctness’. brettkeane2204 commented on RNZ’s article “NZ sports wants to combat ‘casual homophobia’”: “Half them may also demand to use the women’s changing rooms too, of course. This is quite in keeping with their drift, and PC principles.” Brett, while you’ve accidentally half nailed the use of the gender neutral pronoun, what the fuck? You can’t sarcastically say “PC principles” to disregard every liberal movement. Especially when challenging a goddamn human right!*
In God’s own New Zealand—God here being the male, Buck Shelford, up-the-guts type—sport is the binding cultural activity. Subsequently, for better or worse, sport is a gauge on our society worth reading; i.e. we should know if there is a correlation between the All Black’s results and domestic violence; and the extent LGBTQ youth exclude themselves from sport in fear of discrimination and abuse.
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As the national cultural activity, sport should strive to include marginalised and hidden groups, not increase domestic violence statistics. Yet as I will state again and again, sporting communities have often excluded these groups. Anecdotally, from the heteronormative PE classes to the discriminatory chants in the country’s grandstands, as it was at college as they chanted “Homo! Homo! Homo!” at a St Pat’s college athlete competing in the McEvedy Shield competition. Imagine being 14 and gay with your entire peer group demonizing you.
Evidence of the scientific, peer-reviewed, respectable sample size kind sadly backs up the anecdotes. A recent study—they are always recent—titled “Out in the Field” has assessed the state of homophobia in sport.** Conducted across Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the United States, it is the largest of study of its kind. New Zealand did not fare well: “71% [of NZ participants] believe youth team sports are not welcoming or safe for LGB [let alone trans+] people.” Nonetheless, the majority of LGB people in New Zealand played team sports as youth. Sadly one in four gay men stopped playing before adulthood in fear of discrimination, and one in three stopped as a result of “negative experiences in school PE classes.” The study concludes the obvious: there needs to be specific training for PE teachers to care and educate LGBTQ students, and more importantly their classmates; there needs to be zero tolerance of homophobia; there needs to be further reconciliation of the haloed national sports myth with a willing but neglected LGBTQ community. As a result of the disproportionate political, economic, and cultural clout we assign sport within this country, the net gain in undertaking these steps would extend well beyond the court, field, and track.
*And we wonder why RNZ is disabling their comments section within the month.
**Presented in full at www.outonthefields.com