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Excuse-me, O'Whyen?

Susie O'Brien is back 'telling us like it is' in her latest article, this time about Collingwood player Heritier Lumumba. I decided to tell her how it ACTUALLY is, this time from the perspective of someone who is gay and discriminated against and experiences homophobia. The italics are all me, the non-italics are all her.

JUST what is Heritier Lumumba thinking? Surely he wouldn’t throw away a terrific AFL career just because of some graffiti on a poster?

What IS he thinking? Perhaps he is thinking 'wow, i think homophobia in 2014 is really shit. I know there are gay staff around here who probably experience homophobia in other places, and they don't really need it at work as well' 

Today we learn Lumumba may leave Collingwood because of his objection to the words “off to the Mardi Gras boys?” written on an advertising poster featuring fellow players Scott Pendlebury and Dayne Beams.

It was no direct attack on Lumumba, and although could be seen as mildly homophobic, was neither personal, nor particularly nasty.

Oh gosh Susie, thanks for clearing this up for us. Silly me, i thought joking that two men (i assume) touching or standing near each other in a poster are gay and should be off to Mardi Gras is not just mildly homophobic, but actually homophobic. I thought making jokes at the expense of someone's sexuality is the very definition of homophobia, but i'm glad you are around to clear this up. 

I suppose that i'm more sensitive to it because, as a lesbian, i can imagine walking into my place of work and seeing that poster. I can almost *feel* the sinking feeling in my gut, the feeling that queer people always have when someone is casually homophobic around them. The sick thought that someone who i spend all day with is ready with a pen at any moment to make homophobic jokes, and leave them displayed for everyone to see. The chuckle from each player or coach or staff member as they see it like daggers into your soul. 

By reacting in the way he has, Lumumba risks becoming a laughing stock in the eyes of his fellow players and fans of the game.

Do you know who SHOULD actually be the laughing stock? The grown man who took the time out of his busy adult schedule doing really adult things to grab a pen and write 'off to the Mardi Gras boys?' The grown man who wrote that should not only be a laughing stock, but disciplined by his club. 

And do you know who is not laughing? People who think that homophobia is a really serious issue, especially in the macho Australian sporting culture. People who think it is unacceptable in 2014. People who know that the only way things will change is for men like Lumumba to take a stand, to speak up when homophobic incidents occur. 

Yes, there is homophobia in the AFL; that is undeniable. But if players react to every single slight or slur, then they risk not being taken seriously when they raise issues of more substance.

Similarly, I think commentator Brian Taylor deserved to be censored for jokingly calling Geelong star Harry Taylor a “big poofter”.

But, as I argued at the time, he didn’t deserve to lose his job over it. Although it was offensive because it made fun of gay people, it wasn’t a deliberately nasty attack.

Same goes in this case; there is no doubt the Mardi Gras comment was thoughtless and unhelpful, but it wasn’t particularly personal or vindictive.

Susie, i think the words 'deliberate' and 'nasty' have different meanings in your world. Was the person walking along with a pen when they happened to trip and fall into the poster, somehow leaving a scrawled homophobic joke on it? Did Brian Taylor, on live television, call a man a 'big poofter', for everyone to hear, or did he have some kind of weird homophobic hiccup? The reason these incidents occurred is because these grown men decided to be homophobic in that moment. It is not an accident that it is what they went to. That it was in their mind, in their arsenal and it was pulled out when they needed to insult another person.

Or maybe you don't think it's deliberate or nasty because none of the slurs were aimed AT a gay person. Well guess what, that is completely irrelevant. I don't know if you've read my other blog posts, but on the off chance you aren't a fan of mine, i remained closeted for several years after i had decided to come out because i heard one of my family members used a gay slur that wasn't pointed at anyone. Do you really think it isn't 'nasty' to call someone a 'big poofter', a gay slur that men in this country have had to endure time and time again?The very slur that i'm sure has contributed to bullying, to mental health issues, and to suicide for a lot of our young queer men? I can tell you that the poster sure would have felt 'nasty' or 'deliberate' to a gay staff member that walked in and saw it, even if it wasn't aimed at them.

The concern is that such comments stereotype and belittle gay players, and may be a reason there are so few openly gay AFL players.

But if players or officials make heavy weather of every single comment — to the point where they are willing to resign over it — then I think they risk losing the sympathy and support of the wider population.

If players or officials standing up to homophobia, and standing up to this dangerous idea that mild or casual homophobia is not damaging to our society is 'making heavy weather', then let it rain. The person who should have the sympathy and support of the wider population is the person in this case who is saying enough is enough, and wanting homophobia to be treated seriously. The smallest battles can sometimes be the most important, but in any case, they are the ones that need to be fought first. 

Now, some of you might know that I stood up for Adam Goodes and his reaction to the “ape” comment amid criticism from Shane Warne this week. I would argue that this is very different. The ape comment was very hurtful because it suggested that Goodes is subhuman, and a different species to others because of the colour of his skin.

It was a very nasty, personal attack, and I don’t blame him for reacting the way he did after enduring a lifetime of racism. Of course, the problem was also the treatment of the 13-year-old by security staff and the club.

Homophobic comments are extremely hurtful to homosexual people. They suggest that we are different, we are abnormal, we aren't equals, we aren't to be respected, we are to be mocked, we aren't to have the same rights, and our feelings aren't important. When you say that people who stand up for us, and stand against homophobia will be 'laughing stocks', this is also what you are telling us.

Lumumba might have been particularly sensitive to the gay slur because of a comment made to him recently by a Hawthorn supporter.

Lumumba, who has a Brazilian mother and Congolese father, last year changed his name from Harry O’Brien back to his birth name. He took a break from the game amid personal issues, and has struggled with his identity.

No doubt this battle has a bearing on his reaction to the poster. Despite this, I don’t think it’s worth resigning over.

Possibly. Or *maybe* you have no idea about his personal life. 

Once again, political correctness rules the AFL, and petty obsessions are getting in the way of the game we love.

Yes it is such a shame that 'political correctness' like not wanting people to write homophobic jokes on posters is ruling. Yes, 'petty obsessions' like caring about AFL's gay fans, its players, and the young men and women who are affected each and every time they hear about another homophobic incident ARE terrible. 

It’s no wonder that new CEO Gillon McLaughlan’s vow to return the AFL to the fans has been so popular.

Can't wait for a return of AFL to the fans, let racism, sexism and homophobia reign! 

Great job Susie.