“Here is a rainbow for your hair. Here is another sign of the times.”
“For people wondering why it is important for me to share this, the reality is that no straight person has to ever question how those around them might respond to their sexuality.”
Andy Brennan, the 26-year-old forward in the Green Gully team in the National Premier Leagues Victoria, is the first male Australian footballer to come out as gay, less than a year after breaking up with his girlfriend. Outside of the more progressive swimming and diving world, the Tasmanian youngest brother of five joins Ian Roberts as the only top-level Australian sportsman to ever have come out. Ian Roberts, a former RFL rugby league player, came out in 1995 while he was still playing for Manly, my home team.
Fellow Socceroo and former teammate Nigel Boogaard wrote: “Proud of you mate. You are a great person and an amazing role model.”
His coming out happens at a significant time as the controversy over rugby player Israel Folau’s anti-LGBT posts continues to engulf Australian sports while, in politics, the ruling Liberal party reckons with its anti-LGBT candidates ahead of the federal election on May 18.
To put things in perspective, no active A-league soccer player in Britain has declared his sexuality, though the German-born Thomas Hitzlsperger came out after retirement from football, and thus is currently the only openly gay man to have played in England’s Premier League. If I can get all terracey for a moment, come on Engerland!
This is Brennan’s boldly worded statement in full, as originally published by Professional Footballers Australia, the players’ union, on its website. It’s an inspiring and heart-warming read and I hope this is a watershed moment and more athletes will feel safe to come out — because, as Andy says, and as many of us know, the mental burden of hiding your true self from your teammates takes its toll. There are young people reading Andy’s words who can see a future where they don’t have to choose between their sexuality and the game they love. Representation and visibility is key.
“Firstly it is really important for me to say that the main reason I am doing this is to make me feel most comfortable in who I am. It has taken a long time to come to this point. Most of my life, in fact.
But I couldn’t be happier that despite taking so long, ruminating over this decision for so many years and being entirely unsure about myself, I can finally come out and say it. I’m gay.
It’s incredible saying that now; it feels amazing. And weirdly, it doesn’t feel like a big deal. Really in 2019, it shouldn’t be.
But it hasn’t always been that way and of course we all know that there is a stigma attached. There shouldn’t be, but there is. For the people who may be wondering why I feel the need to come out publicly, I understand your view.
For people wondering why it is important for me to share this, the reality is that no straight person has to ever question how those around them might respond to their sexuality.
Being gay, in sport, and in the closet, it has been a mental burden of not knowing how those around you will react. It was a perceived pressure that consumed me. For so long, I wasn’t sure about myself and I certainly wasn’t comfortable talking about how I felt. I guess I was grappling with a reality that I wasn’t really aware of.
In fact, I’ve only become comfortable with it in the last year, which means for the best part of the last decade – most of my adult life – I’ve been pretty unsure of myself. In all honesty, that’s been pretty tough.
Last year was really a turning point for me and what has unfolded since has made me the happiest I’ve been in a long time. It has made me comfortable with myself.
It all built to a point where I reflected on my life so far, and how I had for so long been living not quite a lie, but close to it. I tried to hide my sexuality a lot and tried to push it aside. Not admitting the truth even to myself, just because of the way I thought it would be perceived by a lot of people.
After this realisation and fear of wasting more of the future, I finally admitted it all to myself. I had gotten to the point where I began thinking about telling people. My mind was spinning thinking about the outcomes; what will happen to all my relationships with friends, colleagues, and family. This fear made me doubt so much about everything around me.
The fear brought so much uncertainty; how would my family react? Would I lose some of my lifelong friends? Would I be able to continue playing with my teammates? How would my coaches react? Would they look at me differently, treat me differently?
I thought that if I ever came out, I would be treated differently. I was always incredibly worried about that if I spoke about it to people, they might see me differently to who I am.
But this was me, and I knew it. I couldn’t continue hiding this. So, I knew it was what I needed to do, even if the thought and lead up to telling someone you care about is the most gut-wrenching feeling I have ever felt.
The moment of reflection was a key moment. The first time I allowed myself to think about it and finally accept it, I decided that I would speak. I would finally lift the weight off my shoulders.
First, I spoke to a friend who I thought would be accepting, caring and loving. I met him in a cafe last November. At first, I really thought it was going to be impossible. My heart was racing and I couldn’t come up with the words. It was really, really difficult.
I felt like I wanted to say it, but I didn’t know how to say it and it was kind of bottled up inside and it was a real struggle to get out. But when I finally got it out, he was brilliant and he was happy and he gave me a big hug, which was great.
From there, it unravelled a bit and I spoke to a few more people. Close people who had known me for a while and every time I did, I felt more and more comfortable and I could speak to more people about it.
Then came telling my family – my most trusted and accepting confidants. Deep down I knew each and every one of them would be supportive, but it was still tough. Of course, they were incredible and so supportive. I am so very, very lucky to have a fantastic and open family.
From this point, I had built up my confidence. It became easier talking about it. But there were still people that I feared and worried about telling – some friends who lived further away and of course my teammates and coaches.
However, my teammates and coaches were and are truly amazing. The overwhelming response has been one of huge support and happiness. Green Gully Soccer Club has been unbelievable.
Obviously, I share a changeroom with my teammates. We share that space four times a week – it’s a lot of time together. And it is an environment where people could be unfairly worried about someone who is gay being in there, but my teammates haven’t changed towards me. They haven’t made me feel different or uncomfortable. That is the biggest thing.
Ever since speaking about it, I’ve learned a lot more about the people I have told because of how they’ve treated me – they’ve been amazing. But I still felt there was one more hurdle looming. And perhaps it’s the biggest. How do I “go public”?
Throughout my whole A-League and football career, I’ve never known of, met, or spoken with an out gay male footballer in Australia. Globally, it’s astonishing how few male gay football players have come out during their careers.
When I was at Newcastle Jets, I didn’t want to accept my sexuality. At that time, I was really focused on playing sport and doing my best there, even though I was injured at times. I tried my best to put all my focus and effort into the game and maybe put that part of me aside.
It took me time to realise that I couldn’t keep living this lie; that I wanted to be happy with who I am. At some point you have to realise that that’s who you are and you’ve just got to be who you are. It’s a strange feeling, but I guess in a way I’m the one breaking through the wall here in Australia. Statistically looking at it, people playing the sport, whether it would be football or AFL or any other sport in Australia, there must be more male players who are gay.
Again, I am not doing this for anyone but myself. It is what’s right for me. However, I’m also certain that there are people out there who are living with what I have lived with. If they are playing sport and can’t be who they are, whether they are playing in a professional or amateur environment, then that’s just so challenging.
I think it’s really important that they see there’s someone else who has come out, that there are many other people who are the same, and that it is OK. It is fine to be in a sporting environment and play, and people will accept you.
I’m not calling on anyone to come out, either. While I would applaud that, I think it should be done on your own personal terms. Everyone’s journey is different. Do what you want, do what makes you comfortable, because there is no right or wrong way.
If people see my story as an inspiration, a sign of how things can go, and end up telling even one person how they are feeling, that can make a world of difference. It’s better than bottling it up for as long I did.
I’ve had great support from coaches, great support from the players and everyone at Gully. I don’t think any of the clubs I have been at would have been any different. The more we talk about it, the more clubs are going to step up and show the kind of great support and care they can provide for players. That’s why we have to talk about this.
For me, I couldn’t be happier.”
The worst kind of fudge” the Aussie vote on gay marriage is here