Thursday the Queensland Firebirds and Collingwood will play in the first Super Netball Pride Game. Erin Delahunty shares what it means to the LGBTIQA+ community.
“Heck yes, it means something. It’s not about wearing a rainbow shirt or some tokenistic gesture, it’s a signal people in my sport care about me and actually want to be supportive.”
For Briana Waterson—a 26-year-old woman from the tiny Victorian town of Cohuna, who this year came out as pansexual—the Super Netball league’s first-ever Pride match matters on many levels: to her as a person, as a member of the LGBTIQA+ community and as a netballer.
The history-making game, between the Queensland Firebirds and Collingwood on Thursday night in Brisbane, as part of the league’s condensed end to a Covid-disrupted season, is a result of Netball Queensland’s commitment to the Pride in Sport Australia program.
Super Netball’s governing body, Netball Australia, and a number of other state bodies are also signed up to the initiative, described as the only national sporting inclusion program “specifically designed to assist sporting organisations with the inclusion of employees, athletes, coaches, volunteers, officials and spectators with diverse genders and sexualities.”
The “Pride in Sport” game—the first of its kind in Australian elite netball—is about promoting self-affirmation, dignity, equality and increasing the visibility of LGBTIQA+ people in the netball community.
It comes as recent data from the National LGBTI Health Alliance revealed trans and gender diverse adults are almost 11 times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population, with 35% of trans and gender diverse adults having attempted suicide in their lifetime.
Waterson, who started playing netball as a teenager and currently plays seniors for the Macorna Football Netball Club in the grassroots Golden Rivers league, knows how much visibility matters.
“Maybe if I had seen something like this when I was younger, this kind of acceptance, it might have changed things for me.”
Growing up in a small, conservative country town, Waterson quietly hid herself for many years, feeling “like the only one”.
“My closest family and friends have known I was somewhat queer for most of my life. But growing up, I always dated men and presented as straight. I knew there was something there, but I was too scared to explore it, because I didn’t know where it would lead,” she said.
Waterson had a nine-year relationship with a man she describes as a “loving best friend”, they were married for three years and have a two-year-old daughter. And while their marriage ended, the pair still has a great relationship.
“Then, earlier this year, I met my now-partner, a woman, and we instantly clicked. I knew straight away it wasn’t like anything I’d ever had with a man. I had to explore it, I told myself I couldn’t live in the closet for a moment more.”
So she didn’t. “I started introducing my partner as my partner and for the most part, everyone in my circle and the wider community, even though it’s still a small country town, have been embracing. There have been a few comments here and there, and I am still working out how to react to those, but all the people that matter are loving and accepting.”
Her netball team mates, who range in age from teenagers to 40-plus, embraced her without question, too.
“When I was growing up, netball was just a bit of fun, but now as a mother, I need those girls, they are my social life, my sanity in lots of ways.
“I was really worried thinking about having to tell everyone this season. I thought people might be weird and not want to play as closely with me maybe, but everyone has been absolutely amazing. It’s made it so much easier having that safe space.
“I wish I had come out 10 years ago. I would have if I knew the level of support that was there from that group of women,” she said.
And that’s why Waterson is so thrilled to see the Pride game happening.
“There absolutely needs to be visible support of the queer community in sport, especially in contact sports I believe. The AFLW has really led the way, but it’s great to see elite netball get onboard too.”
Gay athlete Ash Brazill, a Super Netball and AFLW star, who will play in the Pride match at Nissan Arena, described it as “just awesome”.
“If this was happening a couple of years ago, I may have been skeptical and asked was it about just ticking a box?” the 31-year-old said.
“But through my involvement with the AFLW in particular, I’ve heard the stories of many other gay athletes and learned how tough their experiences growing up were and how important similar Pride games have been to them.”
Brazill, who grew up in the New South Wales town of Bargo and came out as a teenager with the support of her parents, said her sexuality has never rated a mention in netball circles. But she knows she’s been lucky.
“I know many women who walked away from netball because they never felt accepted, because they were somewhat different. So netball—especially the Firebirds, who have driven this—doing this is, is awesome.
“It will show that you don’t have to be that stereotype pretty straight girl, with ribbons in your hair, to love and play netball; that you can be who you are, whoever that is,” Brazill said.
The Collingwood and Diamond midcourter said she hopes Super Netball has a full Pride round in the near future.
“I would love to see that, a real celebration, maybe even Pride dresses, because even for me as a gay woman, I know there’s lots I don’t know or understand.
“I always say I’m just the L in LGBTIQA+. I have lots to learn and just as I’ve absolutely loved learning through the league’s Indigenous rounds in recent years, I want to educate myself about Pride too. We know the best way to educate people is through story-telling, which this round enables. It’s brilliant,” she said.
Catherine Clark, chief executive of the Firebirds and Netball Queensland, said the chance to promote positive messages and examples around LGBTIQA+ inclusion for netball and sport in general, was exciting.
“We know the increased visibility of the LGBTIQA+ community can serve as a reminder of worth, help minimise isolation and offer opportunities to connect through sport,” she said.
“We want to celebrate and encourage the diversity within our netball community and an opportunity to inspire all of our associations and clubs across Queensland to consider what they are doing to ensure that the LGBTIQA+ community feel welcome and supported every day.
“You will learn a lot about yourself if you stretch in the direction of kindness, inclusivity and emotional bravery. Stand for equality,” she said.