Being Gay and Playing Ultimate

 2017 Edition

By Max Halden

In light of the recent YES win in the 2017 Australia same-sex marriage plebiscite, IOU Editor Max Halden shares his thoughts on being gay and playing the sport we love

Three years ago, I wrote this article about being gay and playing Ultimate. A year after that, the US Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges, effectively legalising same sex marriage across America. And today, Australia voted overwhelmingly to support same sex marriage in this country. So I thought I'd write a quick update.

I am obviously stoked. I love the Ultimate Frisbee community because of how welcoming, tolerant and supportive everyone is. You can be who you are with significantly less fear of being marginalizsed, made fun of, discriminated against, or attacked. Today's result confirms nationally a feeling that I get almost every time I play Ultimate: I am valued, I am respected, I am loved.

But amazing days like this sit alongside darker days as well. I read this article recently. It's heartbreaking and I recognised thoughts in it that had crossed my mind in the past. I strongly recommend you read the whole thing but here's a line that I think is especially pertinent to our community:

"If you’re a gay kid and you hear someone you love say ‘fag,’ it makes you think that in their eyes you’re just a fag too. That got to me a lot."

I've been lucky enough to have the freedom (economic, social, physical) to curate many elements of my life, including my Ultimate experience. I've found or made teams that match my values and removed myself from situations where I've felt unsafe or unwanted. Ultimate, with its inherent sense of fairness, its focus on enjoyment, and the sense of individual responsibility it inspires, has empowered me more than I can fully express.

But it's worth remembering that not everyone is so lucky and not every day is a good day for those who suffer the effects of inequality (economic, sexual, racial, etc.). While 84% of people in my electorate voted Yes, if you drive an hour or less west in Sydney you'll find the seat of Blaxland, who voted 74% No. How do you feel today if you're a gay kid who is growing up in Bankstown or Merrylands, knowing that 3 in 4 of your neighbours don't think you should be able to marry your significant other?

I've had many heartening conversations with Frisbee connections about the postal survey, especially those who were tossing up a No vote. I was pleasantly surprised that, while many still had significant reservations about homosexuality in society, they were voting Yes or at least abstaining, because they supported fundamental equality for all people under the law. And it's these kind of conversations that convince me that the Ultimate community can have a true positive effect on society. For one, I would never have had this conversation without Ultimate. But more than anything, our sport gives us a series of shared beliefs (or at least a shared activity) that can help bridge the gap between disparate views. Using this base, we can then band together to share these views with the wider world.

Change in our community has two major components: 

High-level support, such as all three Australian U24 teams backing the equality campaign, means a lot. I know from experience that these public pronouncements involved some tough conversations but were also deeply important to many people who supported, played on, or followed those teams. These actions matter and, if we want continue to welcome LGBT players who have had bad experiences (or no experience) in other sports, they are essential.

Local action. As the saying goes, all politics is local and so is our Ultimate experience. As I said back in 2014, even if WFDF and every team at WUGC came out in favour of gay marriage, you'd still feel the pain upon hearing the words 'gay' or 'fag' used as a slur at league. And the responsibility for changing that is on us. We must stamp out homophobia (and racism and sexism) wherever we find it. It shouldn't take a gay person on the field to stand up against derogatory language, just as we shouldn't stand by and accept misogynistic language in groups of men. The change can and should come from you.

Today is a monumental day in Australian history, a black-and-white confirmation (or maybe a rainbow confirmation?) of support for the LGBT community. I am proud to be part of a community that is so accepting and has taken a strong lead in making Australia a country I can be proud of. Let’s use this result to do even more and do even better.