A number of elite athletes, including swimmer Ian Thorpe, have spoken at a Mardi Gras event about their experiences coming out and have called for more support for LGBTI athletes.
The Mardi Gras Film Festival was held in Sydney last night, and was attended by sports stars from a range of codes including basketball, diving and rugby league.
Mr Thorpe was joined in a panel discussion by fellow sports stars Matthew Mitcham, Daniel Kowalski, Sally Shipard, Shelly Gorman-Sandie and Casey Conway.
Between them, they have 16 Olympic medals.
After the American documentary Out To Win, about elite athletes and their stories of coming out, the athletes spoke candidly about homophobia in sports.
Mr Thorpe said he was just 15 when he was first asked about being gay.
“If I had a little bit more time when I was younger, I would have come out, because I would have been comfortable with that,” he said.
“And that’s why I think, we’re all making the same point around why we don’t push people to come out.
“For me, when I did come out, it was amazing to have such a kind of warm embrace from people.”
Olympic swimmer Daniel Kowalski said when he was competing, he did not realise he was gay.
“The worst question I hated was how many girls did he sleep with in the Olympic village and my answer was always none – and that should have been a clear sign that I was probably gay.”
Diver Matthew Mitcham was introduced as the only Australian male athlete to be out while competing at the Olympics.
He said athletes should not have to worry about the impact on potential sponsorship deals.
“When more LGBTI athletes come out and they do start getting those big endorsements and they do start getting their faces on Kellogg’s boxes and stuff like that, that’s when younger kids are going to go, ‘oh, sexuality is not going to be a barrier to me being successful’.”
Next month sporting codes will be challenged to reveal how inclusive they are to the LGBTI community with a new Pride in Sport Index.
The Index was founded by Andrew Purchase, the Vice President of health organisation ACON.
“This is a follow on from the world we did with the Bingham Cup – the Bingham Cup is the gay rugby world cup.
“Two years ago, we had the sport sign a commitment to implement any anti-homophobia policies, but what we realises is we actually needed to implement something which wasn’t just going to be a signature at a point in time, but actually really focus on systematic change.”