AFL Pride Game Helping Fight Homophobia, Study Finds

Pride Game

The AFL’s groundbreaking Pride Game last year had a positive impact on both LGBTI and non-LGBTI football fans, according to research released ahead of the second pride-themed match this weekend.

Last year’s Pride Game, believed to be a world first, saw AFL players wear guernseys or socks featuring rainbow colours as goal umpires waved rainbow flags instead of white ones.

The second Pride Game between the St Kilda Saints and Sydney Swans will be played at Sydney’s SCG on Saturday night.

VicHealth and LaTrobe University surveyed 3,750 attendees of last year’s pride match to try and determine if the initiative was changing attitudes.

Fifty-eight per cent of the LGBTI people surveyed said they didn’t feel AFL games were welcoming places, and 47 per cent said they thought AFL games were not safe places for LGBTI people.

But about 90 per cent of LGBTI people at the Pride Game said they found it to be safe and inclusive.

And after the game, 7 per cent of non-LGBTI people said they were more likely to confront a friend for using homophobic language.

VicHealth chief executive Jerril Rechter told the ABC the results were positive and “incredible to see after just one game.”

“Most significantly the attitudes of non-LGBTI people changed relative to the level of exposure that they had associated with the game,” she said.

“What that means if the more people were exposed to messages of inclusion, understanding and diversity the more positively their attitudes changed.”

But Ms Rechter said attitudes towards the LGBTI community still had “a long way to go”.

“The pride game’s success is a football community in which players’ or fans’ sexual orientation is absolutely irrelevant and in which LGBTI players and football fans feel safe, they feel respected and included, and they feel that anywhere and any time.”

St Kilda Football Club chief executive Matt Finnis said they were thrilled that people at last year’s pride game felt more welcome.

“We’re committed to creating an environment at AFL matches where the LGBTI community feel safe in attending, feel free to be themselves and ultimately feel a sense of belonging,” he said.

“We were heartened by the fact that people said they were comfortable in going to the footy and holding their partner’s hand, when they perhaps haven’t felt safe doing so in the past.

“[Last year] we learned the power of storytelling. There were naysayers but I think the power of some of the stories shared before last year’s game built a real connection with the football community as to why it’s important that everyone feels welcome.”

The international “Out on the Fields” study in 2015 found 80 per cent of Australians involved in sport had witnessed homophobia and 75 per cent believed an openly gay person would be unsafe as a sporting event spectator.

The ABC reported in March that since last year’s game more than half a dozen LGBTI groups supporting sporting teams had emerged, including the Rainbow Crows, the Rainbow Swans, the Purple Bombers, the Ruby Demons, the Blue Roos, and the Pink Magpies.

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