Queer Eye | Issue 18

Queer Eye | Issue 18

Queer All Blacks

The other week there was a piece in The Press about the homophobia faced by a young man called Jay Claydon when he was playing semi-professional rugby. Jay’s story, and others’ like his, highlights the entrenched issues we have in our society in relation to masculinity, sexuality and gender identity.

When Jay was 18 he began coming out to his closest mates who were supportive of him. He didn’t feel comfortable coming out to his rugby team, as he knew how homophobic they were. However, Christchurch is a relatively small place where news can travel fast. According to Jay “at training one night, people were looking at me funny. Somehow they’d found out.” Unfortunately Jay’s fears were realised when, “I got a call from my coach saying the players had taken a vote at a meeting behind my back and they weren’t comfortable having me in the team any more. He said, ‘they don’t want you to come back.’” And so a lovely young man is kicked out of his rugby team just because of his sexual orientation, this in a country which is meant to be socially liberal and values freedom!

Recently swimming legend Ian Thorpe came out as “not straight” following months of depression and problems with alcohol, which he links to having to live in the closet. He said that he had only recently been able to admit his sexual orientation to his closest friends and family after years of speculation. Only two years ago he wrote in his autobiography, “For the record, I am not gay and all of my sexual experiences have been straight. I’m attracted to women, I love children, and aspire to have a family one day.” This highlights how big the lie can get when you are in the closet and how hard it then is to admit your true identity. It also reinforces how the sporting community is perceived to be an unsafe place for queer people.

Ian Thorpe adds to a growing list of current and former elite athletes who are coming out. They have been from a variety of codes: in the NBA (Jason Collins); the English Premier League (former German international Thomas Hitzlsperger); the Welsh rugby team (Gareth Thomas); Olympians (British diver Tom Daley); and the NFL (Michael Sam). But there has yet to be a high-profile rugby player in this country.

Ryan Sanders played for some provincial rugby teams in the NPC and then professionally for Edinburgh from the early to mid 2000s. He describes his time in the closet playing rugby in New Zealand as “suffocating and emotionally draining” and found that he had to have “fake girlfriends” in order to hide his sexuality. Sanders believes that attitudes in New Zealand rugby will only shift if an All Black comes out. Sanders told the Herald on Sunday, “We are making a lot of steps forward in terms of sexual equality and, with rugby being New Zealand’s number-one sport, it is the last hurdle that we need to take.”

Sanders feels that there has “definitely” been a gay All Black at some stage, though no one has ever come out publicly. “I can honestly say that would have made a massive difference to me. For me, it would have been huge if I was young and growing up and an All Black had come out as gay.” Whether or not having a gay All Black would significantly shift people’s homophobic attitudes is anyone’s guess, but there is no doubt that it would help break down some people’s prejudice and misconceptions.
This article first appeared in Issue 18, 2014.
Posted 9:43pm Sunday 3rd August 2014 by Sir Lloyd Queerington.