“Hey gay boy … hey gay boy, did you enjoy the game?”
Now repeat that, spoken with an inflection not referring to the quality of a soccer match, but rather suggesting the question’s target derives a different kind of enjoyment from the sport.
I’m sure you catch my drift.
For most sports photographers, hearing those words shouted from the crowd might barely be considered even remotely meaningful.
If for a second it does register, it would probably be dismissed as ‘harmless banter’ – the type that has existed forever around the world of sports where stereotypical notions of masculinity continue to be reinforced.
But in this instance, it was directed towards a gay sports photographer who was working after the final whistle blew on January 12’s A-League game between Melbourne Victory and Newcastle Jets at AAMI Park.
It’s something I’ve always felt anxious about, and last night, it finally happened. I got subjected to homophobia while simply doing my job. But if adversity’s taught me anything, it’s to always try and find light in the dark. 🌈 pic.twitter.com/01lAszL1yU
— Matt Johnson (@matte_johnson) January 12, 2019
I was following a couple of players as they made their way around the rectangular stadium, thanking fans for turning out and supporting the Boys in Blue – the club I’ve backed since the A-League’s opening seasons.
And the homophobia was spat out, hanging in the air as I stopped in my tracks, stunned.
I’m still figuring out whether my reaction resulted from what was said, or the fact the one thing I’ve always dreaded occurred during my creative side-hustle.
All I know is that it completely shook me. My flight instinct took hold, and I couldn’t figure out where in the crowd the diatribe originated from, as fans waited to get autographs and selfies with their favourite players.
If I had my time again, I’d hope the response wasn’t as visceral. I’d also hope there would have been a better chance to put a face to the voice and an identity with which to approach the Melbourne Victory hierarchy.
There’s little likelihood of an outcome, unless this story jogs someone’s memory.
But it’s why I took to voicing my concerns – in the hope of not only finding a culprit, but to highlight the ongoing homophobia that remains prevalent, especially within sports.
It’s one of the major contributors to the lack of LGBTI+ representation within male sports in Australia, where presently not one participant in the top-tier professional leagues of our most-loved sporting codes identifies as gay.
Israel Folau’s ongoing opposition – as one of rugby union’s most esteemed athletes – continues to disappoint.
FIFA is continuing to crack down on support groups internationally, namely those tied to South American representative sides where homophobic chants remains somewhat commonplace.
But casting the net a bit wider, the unfortunate reality is a select minority in Australia still decide that espousing hateful language, whether intentionally or with a degree of ignorance, is appropriate in 2019.
My mind casts back to last year’s plebiscite held on the right for members of the LGBTI+ community to get married. It sounds dramatic, but the scars are likely going to be entrenched for life.
For months, we were subjected to relentless lying – sometimes from Australia’s highest office bearers – about how legislating for equal rights would destroy previously water-tight social institutions.
It created an environment where members of the public felt emboldened to make their unfiltered opinions known, and there’s residual impact to this day.
I do applaud the work that continues to be conducted within the sporting sphere in tackling homophobia and integrating the LGBTI+ community in all facets.
I’m also conscious that this particular incident does not reflect upon the club – it’s the result of one outlier feeling entitled to mock someone’s appearance, and that target just so happened to belong to a particular minority.
But if anything, let’s start making conversation.
Realise the power of what you may consider to be seemingly innocuous language, and take a moment to self-assess, as you may never know the significance of its impact.
Allies, continue to shout down dissenting, homophobic opinions when you realise those affected may be paralysed by their stinging impact.
Because we’re better than this. I know we are.