by Elliot Constable
“I used to play local footy around the southern beaches and never told my teammates I was gay,” Jason Fennessy said. “I just kept it to myself because I knew they would feel uncomfortable or make an issue about it. Mind you this was back in the early 90s and you would hope things have changed.”
Jason was among the audience at a performance of James Cunningham’s play ‘The Sheds’, at the Sydney Fringe Festival, that follows AFL star Darren Anderson (Patrick Chirico) who, in a pre-season media conference, ‘comes out’ to his team mates, the press and his fans.
After the performance, actor Andii Mulders, who played the character Jimmy Davis, Darren Anderson’s best friend, stressed the importance of theatre in addressing issues such as homophobia in sport.
“The close proximity between the audience and actors in theatre creates a more dramatic effect, it becomes more real,” he said. “My character, who in dealing with his own issues, portrays himself as a homophobe and struggles to deal with his best mate’s revelation.”
He said his role gave him a better understanding of the struggles one would have to deal with when coming out in our society.
“I have seen it on the news – players from other codes coming out but we are yet to see this in the AFL. It makes you wonder why this hasn’t happened yet.”
Brian Taylor, a Channel 7 AFL commentator, recently made a gay slur against a Geelong star, calling him a “big poofter”. This was the same weekend that Olympian Ian Thorpe publically came out. Mr Taylor had to undergo counselling but appeared back on television the following week after making a live apology shortly after the incident.
Penny Wong, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, encouraged those who believed comments like Brian Taylor’s were harmless jokes to watch Ian Thorpe’s interview. “It isn’t a joke to be on the receiving end of a word like poofter, or many other words like it,” she said.
The casual use of homophobic terms make gay individuals feel “alone, isolated from their peers, isolated from their community and sometimes even their own family”, she said.
This last point was illustrated in a YouTube video uploaded less than a month ago entitled “How not to react when your child tells you that he’s gay”. Daniel Pierce, a 19-year-old student from Georgia in the United States, secretly filmed the moment he came out to his parents. After being called a disgrace and told “God creates nobody that way”, an argument occurred, Daniel was physically attacked before being told to leave and not come back.
Playwright James Cunningham says, “There has always been a negative connotation placed on ‘gay’. At the end of the day, it’s nobody’s business if you’re gay or not, but I think it is important for role models – actors, athletes, politicians – to come out publicly. It says to all those closeted people that it’s okay.
“These issues don’t just come up in footy, but also in high schools across the country. This is often the time, as kids go through adolescence and start experimenting, that they realise if they’re gay or not. It’s tough.”
He says his play aims to show there will always be somebody to offer support.
“The nudity isn’t there to shock or to excite. It means something. There is a gay guy in the locker room, and Liam, the captain, has no problem stripping off in front of him. Darren’s coming out hasn’t changed their relationship, and more importantly, Darren isn’t playing the stereotypical ‘gay guy looking at the hot jock’. People can see that not all gays are creeps in the locker room – it breaks that stereotype.”