I had a chat to Alex Blackwell in preparation for my talk on homophobia in sport and why it’s different for women in 2014. She talks about Cricket Australia’s lack of a policy on this issue and how that effects her experience as a member of the national women’s cricket team.
Why did you decide to come out?
Shortly after throwing support behind Athlete Ally (something I was encouraged to get involved with by Hudson Taylor and David Pocock) it became obvious to me that I should be more vocal about my own sexuality.
How can I be trying to stamp out homophobia in sport and be attempting to make sport a safer place for gay athletes while I’m not totally upfront about being a gay athlete myself? I wasn’t hiding who I was to those around me, I just never took the opportunity to be really upfront about it in the media. I didn’t chose to focus on that part of my life in the media as it wasn’t the most important thing about me and my ability to play good cricket.
I chose to be public about my sexuality and experience of homophobia in sport by agreeing to speak with Amanda Shalala for a story on homophobia in sport. It was important to me to have control over when and how the topic of my own sexuality was raised in the media. So I chose a media outlet that I trusted and felt comfortable with and got behind a story that I felt needed to be shared.
What do you think would need to change for athletes to feel comfortable to come out publicly?
Sports choosing to use alternative images to promote their sport eg not always choosing the typically feminine players for media shoots and posters etc. This would show that the sport is ok with promoting all sorts of people not just one type of athlete
Reshape player code of behaviour education within sports to include discrimination based on sexuality . In cricket “racial and religious vilification” is included but no mention of sexuality.
What do you think is keeping athletes from coming out?
- The stereotype that is commonly accepted that most female athletes are gay and by coming out you aren’t helping dispel that
- Fear of losing opportunities to strengthen media profile
- Wanting to keep the focus on their skill in the sport rather than personal factors
- Gay athletes or those who are thought to be gay are not often asked about who they are dating etc
- Fear of being treated differently by teammates and staff
- Fear of being perceived as less tough and therefore not as good at their sport
- Witnessing homophobic attitudes of respected peers
What was the reaction to your coming out?
Praise from teammates, fiends and family who saw the story on ABC. I actually thought that the story did not make it clear that I was a gay athlete, I could have easily just been a commentator on the issue.
Do you think it’s important for there to be out gay sportswomen? Why?
Yes. I think it’s extremely important to be honest about who you are and to be brave and be yourself in the public eye. By being silent about your sexuality you are only buying into the idea that there is something wrong with being a gay person. Being an openly gay sportswoman you are showing everyone, particularly young people, that it’s ok to be yourself.
There’s a public perception that there are a lot of lesbians in sport. What effect do you think this has on both straight and gay athletes?
Straight athletes can sometimes go to extra lengths to show they are not gay eg talk about heterosexual sex a lot, grow their hair long, show off boyfriends, choose to ignore homophobic behaviour or participate in it. This can create some segregation within a team.
Gay athletes choose to stay in the closet as they do not want to feed the perception.
Sports choose to focus on feminine attributes when promoting their teams and they choose to promote heterosexual couples to the media to compensate for that public perception.