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Pride in Our Game

Fiona Newton from the Chicks Talking Footy team reflects on the powerful significance of this year’s AFLW Pride Round celebrations.

Ellie Blackburn gets a kick away. Image: Megan Bewer
Ellie Blackburn gets a kick away in the 2020 Pride Game. Image: Megan Brewer

When the Chicks Talking Footy team interviewed Debbie Lee (VFLW champion and Bulldogs General Manager of Women’s Football) at the AFLW Pride Game broadcast for Joy 949 in 2020, we asked her what a Pride game would have meant to a young, gay Debbie Lee. 

Her reply was, “a young Debbie Lee started playing footy at a club [in] the western suburbs [of Melbourne] and I never told anyone I was gay. I worked at the Western Bulldogs Football Club for 8 years and I pretended I was not gay. I went to Melbourne Football Club and I still wasn’t open. When I was growing up it was taboo, especially for someone like me who was trying to grow the game – for 12-15 years of my life I decided not to bring it up. Luckily, I had a wonderful manager who allowed me to feel comfortable. I have 2 kids and a female partner. I love the fact now that I am comfortable that the team can see my family. I hope that young players can look at me and what we do with Pride Games and be more comfortable to be open.”

We know that sport and football are woven into the fabric of life in Australia. So, to not be open about our relationships and who we are with our tribe can have huge consequences. 

According the ‘Out of the Fields’ study released in 2013, the first international, and the largest study conducted into the experiences of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual (LGB) people in team sporting environments, 87% of young gay Australians who play sport feel forced to completely, or partially, hide their sexuality. Additionally, 80% of all participants and 82% of LGB participants said they have witnessed or experienced homophobia in sport. 

Beyond Blue also produced a report in the same year that stated Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender people are three times more likely to experience depression and around 60% of same sex attracted and gender questioning young people said they experienced verbal abuse because of their sexuality. Eighteen per cent also and devastatingly reported experiencing physical abuse. 

Thankfully, I believe we have come a long way in that short time, with much more still to be done, but we also have much to celebrate.

I remember how much it meant to me as a mother in a same sex relationship, to see Erin Phillips kiss her wife at the 2017 AFLW Best & Fairest and hold the premiership cup with her twins. I remember the feeling of seeing our families represented proudly on the footy field in that moment but also holding those emotions in the same year that we were experiencing a gruelling plebiscite. But then we were celebrating Ebony Antonio and Kara Donnellan (now Antonio) from Fremantle tying the knot and Sabrina Duffy receiving a marriage proposal over the microphone at a game against Collingwood. Knowing that many players are playing against or alongside their partners in AFLW games and can comfortably bring their female partners to best & fairest events and season launches and seeing those images front and centre is everything. 

In recent years we have seen Pride Games in the AFLM between St Kilda and the Sydney Swans become a part of the annual fixture. In the AFLW, there has been an annual Pride Game held between the Western Bulldogs and Carlton at Whitten Oval since 2018. Most clubs now have diversity and inclusion plans that include policies to further include and celebrate LGBTIQA supporters, players and staff. The AFL officially supported the YES vote during the marriage equality plebiscite and are one of the eight peak sporting bodies that have committed to implementing governance that supports a greater level of inclusion for trans and gender diverse people in their sports. This was all unimaginable back in 2013 when the Out of the Fields study was released.

In Round 2 of the 2021 AFLW season all games played will be celebrating LGBTIQA+ Pride and this continues to mark the progress we have made. Again, our women are pioneering and leading the way. This weekend each game will celebrate Pride and many teams will be wearing Pride guernseys. There will be rainbow arcs and drag queens at the footy, and ongoing education provided to players, coaches and staff behind the scenes. The Chicks Talking Footy from Joy 949 will once again be broadcasting live at the Whitten Oval for the fourth Pride game between the Bulldogs and Carlton. 

The Chicks Talking Footy team broadcasting at Whitten Oval.

To me, Motty, Bec, Bree and Rachael from the CTF team, the annual Pride Games are like Christmas. It’s a time when our crazy, colourful and diverse family comes together to celebrate who we are at the footy. We always leave the ground with rainbow hearts full of pride. We are honoured to be part of the broadcast for the 4th year in a row.

They will be talking to special guests in the lead up to the game and joining forces with the team from Pop Queers to bring some trivia competition to the contest. Tune in to Joy 949 6:30pm-8:30pm Friday 5th February.

Plus, if the Pride games of the past are anything to go by, we may just get a bonus with Brooke Lochland kicking 7 goals or Tayla Harris with another famous kick. No matter what, we know it’s going to be another amazing round of AFLW with plenty to celebrate on and off the field.

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