Students to be the change

Chiefs prop Mitch Graham joined The Waterboy founder, Thomas Nabbs (left, behind) and personal trainer Shane Way at St Peter’s last week to talk about homophobia in sport.

Sports charity The Waterboy came to St Peter’s last week with its Everybody’s Game speaker series, aiming to fight homophobia in sport.

The Waterboy’s founder, Thomas Nabbs, told senior students on Thursday that homophobia is still part of New Zealand society, pointing to the fact that there still has never been an openly homosexual All Black or Black Cap.  Thomas cited a 2015 study called Out on the Fields, which found that people on the rainbow spectrum – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning their sexuality, intersex and more – are likely to avoid participating in sport due to their sexuality. This goes against the whole ethos of The Waterboy, which aims to break down barriers to participation in sport.

Following Thomas’ introduction, Les Mills personal trainer, Shane Way, told the packed auditorium first-hand how damaging homophobia in sport can be.  Early harassment at school led Shane down a path of alcohol and drug abuse, self-harm, depression and anxiety and ultimately a suicide attempt in his early 20s.  It was sport that pulled him out of that dark place, and sport that has seen him gain his fitness qualifications and industry accolades.  “The LGBQTA community, especially our queer youth, has the highest suicide rate in New Zealand,” a statistic he said is created by homophobia. “Being gay doesn’t lead to suicide – bullying and homophobia does.

“You guys are the generation that can make a change,” he told the students.

Next at the podium was Mitchell (Mitch) Graham, Chiefs’ prop and St Peter’s head boy in 2008.  Using homophobic terms in sport was pretty much the norm growing up, Mitch told the crowd, but he urged students to break the habit.  Saying something is ‘gay’ or describing another player as a ‘homo’ is making it difficult for people to be honest about who they are, he explained.

“Each of those words carry a massive punch to someone who might be closer than you think,” Mitch said, adding that he has five good friends he was unknowingly insulting by using that language back then. Like Shane, Mitch cited New Zealand’s high suicide statistics and urged students to ditch the old adage that ‘sticks and stones will break my bones, but words would never hurt me,’ calling it the “biggest lie”.

“Everyone should make an effort to save a life, because you don’t know whose life you are making harder.”

Afterwards, student executive member Sara Steffert said she would be thinking twice about the language she uses both on the sports field and in the playing field. Fellow student executive member Sam Smith agreed, adding that “personally, I will call anyone up on it”.  Both agreed that the presentation was well-received and had a big impact on the students.

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