Sport In Transition: Will Trans* People Make The Breakthrough in Aussie Rules?

Andrew Demetriou: pic by Sen Kate Lundy


PodcastTrans* & AFL, tonight 7pm live on The Rainbow Report Joy 94.9 Melbourne, with AFL NSW/ACT CEO Tom Harley, and gay rights advocate Rob Mitchell. Listen live online here from 1900hrs Australian Eastern Standard Time.

It’s clear now that the AFL has once again dropped the ball on tackling the anti-gay prejudice endemic throughout the organisation.

Jason Ball’s initiative reached a high water mark with the showing of the beyondblue and No To Homophobia ads, but a proposed anti-homophobia training program has stalled, and the suggested Pride Round was first downgraded to a Pride Match, and is now off the agenda for the foreseeable future.

Jason tells me he is “disappointed with the AFL’s decision to postpone the Pride game, as well as their general lack of will to own the issue of late, especially off the back of the hugely successful ‘Footy4IDAHO’ campaign led by the AFLPA.”

Jason Ball

Jason Ball

He told The Age:

”We are in the midst of a pretty significant cultural shift on this issue and the AFL are going to be left behind if they don’t act. I’m not worried too much about a pride game because I understand that a lot of education has to be done at the grassroots level first, but why are the AFL dragging their feet on doing that work?

Quite. But Andrew Demetriou has more important things on his plate: collapsing clubs, rape allegations, drug abuse. Anti-homophobia training is way down his list of priorities. Marginalised, excluded, bullied LGBTI kids are just invisible.

The trouble with smothering a fire in one place, without addressing the causes, is that it’s apt to break out elsewhere with renewed force. Gays may have been bought off with a few ads and some honeyed words, but trans* people are at the pointy end of AFL prejudice- and they’re kicking back.

Kirsti Miller: "You can say I'm a cross between Akermanis & Priscilla!"

Kirsti Miller: “You can say I’m a cross between Akermanis & Priscilla!”

Kirsti Miller is not one to back away from a fight. When she was vilified by players on an opposing team, and ostracised by her own team of South Broken Hill went she went public about it, she didn’t shut up. She turned up the volume. The story was everywhere:

Mediation with transgender footballer is working, the AFL says

AFL in talks with transgender player over vilification

AFL intervenes in trans vilification case

Mediation ordered for AFL and transgender player

Australia: Club fails to support verbally harassed trans footballer

Trans footballer allegedly vilified on pitch in New South Wales

Broken Hill vilification row rocks AFL

Kirsti will be joining me tonight 7pm live on The Rainbow Report on Joy 94.9 in Melbourne, with AFL NSW/ACT CEO Tom Harley, former Geelong captain, and TV commentator. Listen live online here from 1900hrs Australian Eastern Standard Time.

I couldn’t get a response from Andrew Demetriou, but Tess from the Pink Magpies could. She suffered abuse and harrassment in her time at Collingwood. Regarding Kirsti, Demetriou trotted out the standard lines.

AFL has moved in the past few years to try and address this important issue around LGBT vilification. The AFL re-wrote and expanded our rules beyond the previous definition of religious and racial vilification, to include all forms of hurtful language and words, and have begun working with both the AFL player group and metropolitan leagues on education on this issue.. . .

The AFL has clear policies and rules in place to ensure participants are not subject to vilification or harassment, and this approach is directed down through all of our state bodies and metropolitan and regional competitions.

As the head of the AFL executive, I repeat the position that I stated in a media conference with Adam Goodes on the morning of Saturday May 25 and these words have been used directly in the media commentary from the state body – discrimination in any form will not be tolerated; whether it be by employees, volunteers, spectators or participants.

The Investigation by AFL NSW/ACT determined the matter had not been adequately resolved at the local level, and so AFL NSW/ACT has acted to immediately initiate a mediation and education process with all parties involved to achieve a satisfactory outcome as soon as possible.

I want to say that AFL NSW/ACT is treating this matter with the utmost seriousness.

AFL NSW/ACT will follow through its complaint process and I expect this matter to be resolved to the satisfaction of Kirsti, as per our Rules that bind AFL players, coaches and officials in the same way.

Notwithstanding the fine words here, we have yet to see players banned from matches, or supporters from grounds, for hurling anti-gay abuse. All the public talk has been around race, with no specific address to sexuality and gender. And the education initiative he refers to is, as I understand it, stalled, with clubs unwilling to even sign up to a pilot program.

Bombergirl Michelle diamond

Bombergirl Michelle diamond

There are, however, some positive stories. Take Michelle Diamond, who is about to run out as an official AFL goal umpire for the first time as her true self at the upcoming Suns / Tigers game in Cairns.

She says:

I decided to live a dream and become a goal umpire, only to find out we are invisible when it comes to sport.

I think all the stories should be out there instead of glorifying the negative all the time and instead promote the inspirational side of things, AFL is my passion and hate to see these things happen but it does not happen everywhere as I have proved.

She told the Star Observer about her positive experience when training to become an official goal umpire:

Diamond decided to be herself, and be open about her gender identity.

“I was very nervous on my first training night I must admit… but it was awesome. They are great towards me, I don’t get treated different from anyone else and haven’t had any major dramas at all.”

“We all train together and everyone gets treated equally… I love the sport that much and I look forward to training every week – as hard as it gets some nights.”

Diamond’s story shows the AFL can get it right when it tries. It’s trying to put things right in Broken Hill, now that the problem is in the open.

But in Melbourne, AFLs spiritual home, it seems progress has stalled. The AFL is still being wholly reactive, waiting for problems to surface before taking action. Pro-active initiatives, meanwhile run into the sand, storing up more misery and conflict for the future.

It’s time for the AFL to show some leadership. Right now, there’s little sign.

I’ll be covering this issue tonight live 7pm on The Rainbow Report on Joy 94.9 in Melbourne, with AFL NSW/ACT CEO Tom Harley, former Geelong captain, and TV commentator, and gay rights advocate Rob Mitchell. Listen live online here from 1900hrs Australian Eastern Standard Time.

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)