We were deeply disappointed to see Israel Folau’s homophobic comments being given further airtime last night. While we agree it is important to give athletes a voice – and base our own business model on such – surely this does not extend to providing a platform for prejudice.
Israel had already his say on his own social media platforms, where he is entitled to express his opinion, however misguided and damaging it may be. But to then give him more airtime to further espouse and attempt to explain his contradictory views is unnecessary and causes even greater damage than he has already done.
To recap, in the latest article, published by PlayersVoice, Israel says multiple times that he believes that being gay is a ‘sin’, from which people should ‘repent’. He is suggesting that it is his role to ‘save’ people from the ‘hole’ of homosexuality. In his social media comment, which this article is legitimising, Israel suggested that people who are gay will burn in hell.
Let us be clear, being gay is not a choice. Nor is it something to be ashamed of, or to repent of.
Israel attempts to compare being gay to the ‘sin’ of his earlier lifestyle choices of drinking too much or being promiscuous. But these are just that, lifestyle choices. If Israel believes he should make different life choices, then all power to him. But being gay is not a lifestyle choice. It is something you are born as. Israel is suggesting people should repent for being who they are.
This position is fundamentally flawed and extremely damaging. A position which has fuelled the practice of gay conversion therapy, which has in turn led to multiple suicides. Right now, there will be young people – young athletes and members of the public – who will be reading that article wondering if Israel is right. Maybe they do deserve to burn in hell? Maybe they don’t deserve to live?
Some will say that Israel has the right to express these views as they are based on his faith and Bible teachings. But the Bible also, at various times, condones capital punishment, slavery, xenophobia and violence against women and children. Would it be okay to publish an article legitimising those views just because an athlete wanted a safe space to express them?
The LGBTIQ community has been through a lot in the past 12 months and is only just recovering from the vitriol and hatred levelled at it during the same-sex marriage postal vote fiasco. Many people in the community have expressed to us how much their mental health suffered during that time. By giving Israel further airtime, we are rekindling the same ‘debate’, and legitimising the arguments and hatred that the community suffered through last year.
Being an LGBTIQ athlete – or LGBTIQ in any walk of life – is a difficult enough journey as it is, without organisations that purport to be supporting athletes giving airtime to views such as these. There will be young athletes (and other young people) who believe that if a sports publication is prepared to publish that article, it must reflect the opinion of the wider sporting community. These athletes will then continue to struggle with their identity, and any resulting mental health concerns, in silence.
The sad irony is, by giving Israel a ‘safe space’ to express his personal views, it may have led to unsafe situations for many young LGBTIQ people.
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