Conflicting messages for AFL’s LGBT+ community

On Wednesday, the AFL community received two significant statements on the topic of marriage equality.

Most prominently, the AFL vocalised its support of a ‘yes’ vote in the current postal survey, which is a vital – albeit insulting – step in amending the Marriage Act to allow same-sex marriage.

Left to right: Meg Hutchins (Collingwood), Max Gawn (Melbourne), Ben Brown (North Melbourne), Alastair Clarkson (Hawthorn), AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan, AFL GM of Inclusion and Social Policy Tanya Hosch, Dyson Heppell (Essendon), Darcy Vescio (Carlton) and AFL Umpires Coach Hayden Kennedy. Image: Michael Willson/AFL Media

The league announced its stance in the most powerful manner possible, posting a picture on its social media platforms displaying the new altered logo out the front of AFL House, which now shows a bold ‘YES’ in place of the familiar AFL letters, accompanied by a cast of well known football faces.

The image was coupled with a short but sweet text passage that reads: “The AFL is committed to equality and diversity and we support the rights of all Australians to live, work and play free from discrimination.”

On top of the altered logo, the match balls used in this weekend’s AFLM Preliminary Finals will proudly display the word ‘YES’.

It’s a significant statement from the league without saying much at all. Further than vocally supporting a ‘yes’ vote in the same manner Cricket Australia, National Rugby League, Football Federation Australia and Australian Rugby Union have done prior, the AFL has changed its logo – its identity – to proudly promote marriage equality.

The AFL’s stance has been widely known since 2014, but now the league has made itself synonymous with marriage equality. That is huge given the potential backlash the AFL could receive from long-standing corporate partners and fans who share conservative views.

But following the grand gesture made by the AFL, the tone of the conversation changed when Carlton released a perplexing statement regarding marriage equality just hours later.

“The Carlton Football Club prides itself on being inclusive, and a leader in engendering equality and a deep sense of belonging,” the statement reads.

“The issue of ‘same sex marriage’ is essentially one of equality; and so the Club encourages all of its people to have their say in this important national vote.

“As a Club, we respect that this is about personal choice, and as such don’t intend to campaign on the issue, but we do strongly reinforce our Club’s absolute commitment to equality – and a community that is free from any form of discrimination.”

The Blues shared the statement on their social media channels, overshadowing Hawthorn’s similarly worded statement released the previous morning which was tactically kept off Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

“Hawthorn Football Club embraces and welcomes all people, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexuality or cultural background,” Hawthorn’s statement reads.

“The club celebrates diversity and demands equality, and also respects the rights of individuals to make their own personal choices and form their own opinions.

“Hawthorn sees its role as providing an environment of respect, diversity and inclusivity where people can embrace their differences and unity in their love of the club and the game of AFL.”

In Carlton’s case, the contradicting stance is a complete back flip on the club’s actions during its much-publicised reset both on and off the field in recent years.

Carlton has actively made inclusivity and social activism a part of its foundations. Women now make up 50 per cent of the Blues’ executive team and 45 per cent of total staff, a diversity sub-committee has been established, and last year the club launched ‘Carlton Respects’, a program that prevents family and gender-based violence and promotes respectful relationships.

The last point is particularly worth noting, as the Blues players have run out wearing bright orange socks in support of the cause on two occasions. Not too dissimilar to St Kilda donning rainbow numbers for the Pride Match.

So why now does such a progressive club opt to sit on the fence when it comes to marriage equality?

The club statement itself contradicts Carlton’s own stance on gender equality.

“Carlton appreciates its obligations to the greater cause, of influencing people to see beyond their prejudices and help break down the barriers,” a statement published on the Carlton website in 2016 said.

“It also understands its place in the big picture role sport in general has in bringing communities together and enhancing social connectedness and cohesion.”

Furthermore, Carlton CEO Steven Trigg previously emphasised the club’s need to be outwardly supportive of equality.

“Our mission has quickly become to be the most inclusive club possible,” Trigg said in 2016.

“To do that we need to be thoroughly immersed in equality and being leaders in equality…and if we can get that right it will help Carlton to grow.”

Carlton and Hawthorn, you didn’t get it right this time.

Yes, as per Wednesday’s Carlton statement, this postal vote is about personal choice. But as a club that “prides itself on being inclusive, and a leader in engendering equality” as it was written, it is your responsibility to be an active supporter of marriage equality.

Leaders lead, and you are not leading.

The same goes for Hawthorn. Imagine the audacity of saying your club “demands equality” in a statement about opting to stay quiet on an equality issue, and not even sharing the statement on social media.

These are clubs that ask their players to fight for the jumper week in, week out. It’s disappointing that in return, the club will not fight for the members of the LGBT+ community within their respective football families who just want equal marriage rights for themselves, those close to them, and all who want their love legally recognised.

The notion that this is an issue that sporting clubs should not get involved with is garbage. Sport is inherently political, especially in this country given the significant role it plays in our cultural identity.

If you truly want change, you have to fight for it, as non-action is the greatest ally of those who wish to keep the status quo.

It’s on that note that we’d like to acknowledge the Australian Football League, Collingwood, Gold Coast, Sydney, St Kilda, North Melbourne, Geelong and the Western Bulldogs for their open and unwavering support of marriage equality.

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