Simon Dunn says that even though he is out and proud, he still faces homophobia and even admits that if he had to do it all again, he might not have come out until AFTER his sporting career was over.
“Why do you have to be so gay sometimes?”
That was a simple off-the-cuff statement that came from a teammate in the Australian Bobsleigh team that has stuck with me for years.
It was at that moment that I realised that I would never be fully accepted by my own team, that in some way, shape or form, my teammate felt my sexuality should be something hidden and something that I should not be proud of.
It would take most of my adult life for me to finally be proud of my sexuality but in this one moment that pride had been questioned.
That offending comment was made during my rookie season at a dinner after my first weekend of bobsleigh racing in Park City, Utah. It was an evening that should’ve been full of elation and pride because I’d not only had the honour of representing my home country of Australia but I was also proud to be the first openly gay man to represent their country in bobsleigh.
Instead I went to bed that night feeling totally empty. I felt as though nothing had changed since I was that teenager who had given up his sport because of his sexuality, like many others did before me and still continue to do today.
You see, I’ve had more than my fair share of homophobia in the sporting environment.
I grew up in a small city in coastal NSW playing rugby league. I came out in my final year of school as I hadn’t seen anyone do it previously. I really felt I could make a difference by challenging the stereotypes that working class Australia has of gay men and show the students at my school that in fact, yes, an athlete can be gay.
Little did I know that 10 years later that I would still be trying to make a difference and that this would become a fundamental and major part of my life and what motivates me daily.
Out and proud, I continued to play rugby, but I soon discovered that life as a gay player wouldn’t be easy.
Not only did get nasty comments from opposing teams, I was hurt by those closer to home.
I distinctly remember one time at training one day, a teammate said to the coach that he didn’t want me in the scrum with him. This was a teammate who I’d played alongside since I was young who now all of a sudden had an aversion in doing so just because I was gay.
So not only did I have to deal with the blatant homophobia from the opposition but also my own team. This would eventually cause me to leave the sport.
Moving forward to the last couple of years, I’ve primary focused my profile on promoting gay athletes and the fight against homophobia in sport. As for obvious reasons this is something very dear to my heart.
I’ve learnt that people seem to be under the perception that being at my level that homophobia would no longer be an issue. This is very wrong! I hear jokes about gays during training and even a speaker at a national camp recently used the word “faggot” during his speech.
My personal life outside of bobsleigh is rarely spoken about with my team mates as I know this isn’t something they’d be comfortable hearing about.
Homophobia is still a daily reality for me and there are some things so hurtful that for now I will keep to myself.
From this experience, I can now finally understand why out athletes are very rare. If I wasn’t already out before I made the national team I’m now unsure that I would’ve taken the step in doing so until after my career was over. Overtime I’ve learnt to align myself with more accepting team mates and avoid those who have an issue with it.
I fear now that homophobia is so entwined into the sporting culture that real change will not come during my sporting career. We have far too long a road ahead of us.
But when I’m done with sport, and even after I’ve finished off with a few years in the safety net of inclusive rugby, I give you my word that I will continue to fight this battle. I have known too many talented young gay athletes with the brightest of sporting careers give up their dreams because of what they deemed as “sporting culture”.
I hope the fact that I also go through this tough life on a daily basis may give comfort to those same young gay athletes that it’s not just them having hard time. I want them to know that they get through it and achieve great things. I promise… the battle is worth it. As your confidence grows in your sexuality so does your ability to brush off the hate.