‘Last bas­tion’ of ho­mo­pho­bia

The New Zealand Fal­cons are now in their third sea­son. Re­porter Si­mon Smith sat down with Sam Lear­month to talk about what it is like to be an openly gay rugby player in 2015.

Auckland City Harbour News - - SPORT -

When Sam Lear­month was at school he didn’t want to play rugby be­cause he feared its macho cul­ture.

It wasn’t un­til he was 32 that the New Zealand Fal­cons started up and he joined their sup­port­ive en­vi­ron­ment.

Play­ing his first game two years ago for the gay-friendly rugby team was a mem­o­rable and lib­er­at­ing mo­ment for the lawyer from Avon­dale.

‘‘It was ter­ri­fy­ing and it was un­like any­thing I had done be­fore.’’

Lear­month says that although his team is gen­er­ally ac­cepted, sport is ‘‘the last bas­tion’’ of ho­mo­pho­bia.

At sport sta­di­ums and when watch­ing games down at the pub it is com­mon for spec­ta­tors to shout out in­sult­ing words.

‘‘I think that if you are not gay then you prob­a­bly don’t recog­nise what it’s like,’’ he says.

‘‘I don’t re­ally ex­pe­ri­ence ho­mo­pho­bia in any other el­e­ment of life, ex­cept in sport. You would never speak to some­one like that in a work en­vi­ron­ment.’’

The Fal­cons play weekly in the Auck­land Rugby pres­i­dents grade and are at­tached to the Pon­sonby Rugby Club.

It is the team’s third sea­son now and in­stances of ho­mo­pho­bia in and around the field are re­duc­ing, Lear­month says. Most of their op­po­nents just want to play rugby and are happy to so­cialise af­ter­wards, although last year a team did not want to go for a beer af­ter the game.

Lear­month says there has been a lack of dis­cus­sion in New Zealand on ho­mo­pho­bia in sport, but over the Tas­man progress is faster.

For­mer Wal­la­bies cap­tain David Po­cock was vo­cal in de­nounc­ing Waratahs for­ward Jac­ques Pot­gi­eter for us­ing the word ‘‘fag­got’’ on the field this year.

The sport’s author­i­ties backed him up and handed down a $10,000 fine.

Aus­tralia is also more pro­gres­sive in high-pro­file sports­peo­ple be­ing openly-gay, with world cham­pion swim­mer Ian Thorpe com­ing out last year.

"There’s been some re­ally pos­i­tive shifts, and I think that New Zealand will fol­low that,’’ Lear­month says.

The Fal­cons had a solid sea­son last year, and this sea­son have not lost a game.

Lear­month is the team’s vi­cepres­i­dent but is cur­rently sit­ting on the side­lines as he dis­lo­cated his shoul­der at the end of last year.

About 90 per cent of the 30 to 40 play­ers in the Fal­cons are gay, and this is ben­e­fi­cial in help­ing them come to­gether as a side.

Lear­month says the play­ers are highly in­vested in mak­ing the team work, with a sense of lift­ing each other up, and dis­play­ing per­haps more pa­tience than there oth­er­wise might be.

‘‘One of the mo­ments when we re­ally felt that we were a team was when ASB came on board, be­cause they were a big cor­po­rate spon­sor and it gave us a big sense of pride — we weren’t just a mem­ber of the gay com­mu­nity any more.’’

The Fal­cons will be host­ing the Pur­chas Cup from Septem­ber 4 to 6, with gay-friendly rugby teams from Syd­ney, Mel­bourne and Bris­bane at­tend­ing.

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