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This blog post is part of a series here at Scarleteen profiling young people worldwide who are activists in some way in the fields of sexuality, sex education and sexual health.
In September of 2012, openly gay footy player Jason Ball started a change.org petition calling on the AFL (Australian Football League, for all you non-Aussies out there) to air anti-homophobia videos during their grand final. They agreed to show the ads from No To Homophobia during the preliminary finals, and since then, Jason has kept very busy speaking to new AFL players about homophobia in sport, becoming an ambassador for national mental health organization Beyond Blue, and leading the 18th Pride March Victoria through Melbourne with his teammates. You can find him on twitter at @jasonball88.
You’ve had a very busy year, getting a lot of attention with your call for the AFL to do more to tackle homophobia. What is it that sparked that activism, that made you decide to do something?
The one thing that gave me the courage to actually do it, was Victorian Hockey player Gus Johnston’s YouTube video on The Reality of Homophobia in Sport
To me it was incredibly raw and powerful to have a blokey sports guy speaking openly about being gay, I could relate to everything he was saying. He also spoke about how much better life was for him after coming out, and I knew if I had seen this video much earlier in my life it would made a world of difference to me. I wanted to see more gay players talking openly, sharing their story, and I thought a personal story would be a great way to call on the AFL to do more.
How did it feel to lead this year’s Pride March Victoria?
It was an incredible feeling, but to me the real heroes of that story are my straight teammates who marched with me, as well as AFL players Brock McLean and Daniel Jackson who also marched. I think straight allies are incredibly important, especially within sport, and I think their presence at Pride March was very powerful.
In a culture that’s becoming increasingly accepting of sexual and gender diversity, why do you think homophobic slurs and jokes are still so common, and what can be done about it?
I think it’s common because people do it blindly. They don’t actually think about what they are saying when they use words like faggot or poof or use the word ‘gay’ to mean weak or soft. It has been part of the footy culture for so long and most people don’t mean to be homophobic when they use those words. From my experience what has worked, is to talk from a personal perspective about how homophobic language effects people who are gay, how it was the greatest thing that contributed to me being terrified about coming out. Their language made me think that they would hate me if they knew I was gay. I feared being bullied or kicked off the team. Once people have their consciousness raised to how homophobic language contributes to the fear, anxiety and depression experienced by young gay people, they can’t help but change their language, because they don’t want to contribute to something so awful.
What is the main goal of your work (if there is just one)? What do you want to accomplish through your work with the AFL, Beyond Blue, and the No to Homophobia campaign?
I guess the end goal is to see sport no longer be an environment where gay people feel excluded and vilified. I think sport should be for everyone, and we need to do everything we can to make sport a more welcoming and supportive environment for the GLBTI community, whether as participants or supporters.
Doing work in the area of sexuality can be discouraging and exhausting at times. How do you stay motivated?
I stay motivated through the messages of thanks and congratulations I receive every week from people who claim that my story and my campaign has changed something for them. Whether it’s the courage to come out to their parents, to come out to their sporting team, or to pledge to stop using homophobic language, the thing that keeps me going is hearing these stories and knowing it is making a positive difference.
Any advice for other young people who might want to get involved in some form of activism, but aren’t sure where to start?
I think the place to start is always to look for something that resonates at a personal level. Tap into your own story, your own experiences in life and always go back to that. Personal stories are what can change hearts and minds.
Want to check out our last young activist profile? Find out about Patsy of YEAH and the Foundation for Young Australians here.
Know an awesome young activist you think should be profiled at Scarleteen (or if you are one yourself and want to share your story!)? You can let me know by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org