The Rainbow Conundrum: seeking consensus on homophobia in the AFL

An interesting weekend of football just gone where fan behaviour was once again in the spotlight. Lin Jong, on a day when he probably had his ‘breakout’ performance, was racially abused by a Richmond fan. The fan, to his credit, offered a sincere and unreserved apology (none of those ‘I’m sorry if anyone was offended’ faux Woolworth’s style apologies) which Jong graciously accepted. Jong leaves the weekend with his reputation enhanced, both as a footballer and a human being. Nothing to see here, let’s move on.

Rance-id abuse

There was another incident in that game too, though. That of homophobic slurs being directed at Alex Rance. The abuse hurler was himself hurled from the ground, with more action to follow. Fair enough, isn’t it?

There’s something a bit different about homophobic abuse, though, isn’t there? A person is racially abused for what they are: a member of a non-dominant ethnic group. The insult is necessarily personal but at the same time relies on the implication (or explication) that all members of that group are lesser than the norm represented by the (no doubt intelligent and sophisticated) insult slinger.

Given there are no openly gay footballers in the AFL a homophobic slur does not target the individual in any meaningful way. The angry boofhead was, presumably, not making an actual accusation towards Rance as if it was still 1890s London and Rance a high profile Irish author (although, presumably Rance’s stalking case last year may have been the twerp’s inspiration). Rather, the insult relies entirely on the belief that there is something wrong with being gay and that the fear of being considered as such conveys power. Unlike racism, it relies upon consensus for its impact.

I’m free

Therein lies the conundrum. Unlike racism, a homophobic insult itself only has power over a non-LGBTIQ person if they themselves buy into the premise – that there is something wrong with being gay. Tie all this up with knuckle-dragging perceptions of masculinity and we have a continuum of manliness with Bear Grylls at one end and John Inman at the other. To be considered unmanly in a manly world is deeply shameful.

All of this is about consensus. We, rightly, react to racism at the footy these days because there is a footballing consensus that racism is abhorrent. This is still a relatively recent thing, however. 10 years ago racial abuse was a commonish thing to hear on the terraces. Things changed;  a couple of years back at the Parade, as an Aboriginal player for the opposing team took possession of the ball near us, and from the terraces came ‘I’m not allowed to call you what I normally would, so tonight you’re a poofter’.

Warning signs your child may support Port Adelaide

Anyone that spends time on Facebook and/or in the company of ‘mainstream’ young men knows homophobic insults are still de rigeur. I have seen the slack-jawed meme (there is rarely any other type) several times in the last week that ownership of Crows bed linen is a warning sign your child may be gay. But then again after Creflo Dollar’s suggestion that Pokemon makes children gay, anything is possible. I mean why wouldn’t you take the word of a man whose name consists of a space-age saucepan coating and some currency? I’m working on a theory that Teletubbies made kids left handed.

The point being, we are a reasonable way from any level of societal consensus that homophobic insults are inappropriate. That’s the reality behind BT’s ‘big poofter’ gaffe – in many contexts both he and Richo would have thought little of the interaction. It was only the TV camera that queered the pitch, so to speak. Take Collingwood’s response to a homophobic incident at the club – trade the person that complained. Anyone else hoping Heritier has a massive Queen’s birthday?

A victimless crime?

Therein lies the problem. People often see one straight man calling another straight man gay as victimless. Nothing real is meant by it. Nothing real… except there is something wrong with being gay. This in a society where many are still afraid to come out to family and friends. Where the concept of ‘coming out’ still exists. Where rates of depression and bullying for young LGBTIQ people far outstrip their peers. There are victims.

But when our government retains a policy of open discrimination against gay people, should we be surprised at how far we are from the level of consensus required for this sort of abuse to no longer come naturally to fans at football, in the changerooms and in the classroom?

1984 was a good year

I’m not that keen on banning the expression of thought – it has its place. For example, the sooner we can permanently ban the post-Richie Channel 9 commentary team from speaking, the better. Freedom of speech and expression is a myth we like to comfort ourselves with when people aren’t threatening murder or committing slander.

This is about convincing people that a throwaway insult with no direct victim may not be as disposable as they thought. It is like those bloody coffee pods piling up at landfill (we’re all too good for Blend 43 now apparently) or that massive gyre of plastic swirling around the Pacific. It is ugly, toxic, out of sight for most and it diminishes us as a society.

People should stop this behaviour because they believe it’s inappropriate. Sure, the Bulldogs or the AFL might thwack some dufus over this, but until we have a footballing consensus similar to that on racism, little will change. Gay footballers will still hide that part of themselves from sight and young people discovering their sexuality will still feel shame when there is no reason. How we get to consensus I’m not so sure.

About Dave Brown

Upholding the honour of the colony. "Play up Norwoods!"


  1. Nice work Dave Brown.

    My son is Taiwanese and is a big fan of Lin Jong

    I will take him to Swans vs Bulldogs to see Lin Jong play. Nice to hear that he is a top human being as well as a promising footy player for an improving young side

  2. Thoughtful piece Dave. Made me reflect on my own attitudes over life. Never (overtly) racist as I was brought up with the all men are equal/you can’t help the colour of your skin credo. Plenty copped the ‘poo….’ epithet until I was in my early 30’s and one of my mentors and friends was gay; so it no longer seemed like a fitting term of abuse. As you say the victims are not the individuals abused (who can laugh it off with ease) but the intimidating climate created for young people trying to decide their place in life.
    These days I just go with “Wellingham/Shuey you girl” (my own players cop more than the opposition sans Dockers and Bombers). Is it sexist to use the feminine as a form of abuse? Is there a more acceptable form of releasing my frustrations these days?

  3. E.regnans says

  4. Dave Brown says

    Thanks for comments (and videos). Yeah, bad news PB. I also grew up in peer groups where racist and then homophobic abuse transitioned itself from acceptable to unacceptable. We’re in the middle of weaning ourselves off applying female epithets to players we don’t like. Embrace the future I say!

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