This weekend, Sydney will faire la fête with the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, an event that began in 1978 when more than 500 people assembled at Taylor Square for a public protest. During the course of the protest, 53 people were arrested. The next day their names were published by the Sydney Morning Herald. In a society that still regarded homosexuality as a crime, many lost their jobs and their livelihoods.
Whilst 38 years have since passed, inclusion remains an aspiration rather than a reality for many gay and lesbian people.
When I started my career straight out of high school more than 17 years ago, KPMG was a vastly different place – different in terms of what we did, how we worked and who we employed.
In simple terms, the KPMG of 1998 was first and foremost an accounting firm. Pencils, ruled ledger books and shared desktop computers were the norm. The firm was also very homogeneous: predominantly male, white, private school educated and unquestionably straight.
It was into this environment that I – a 17-year old fresh out of Penrith High – came to work for the first time. As a teenager who knew that he did not fit the regular mould, I felt unable to bring my whole self to work. I felt incomplete and inauthentic, and it was exhausting.
Thankfully times have changed.
This week we relaunched Pride@KPMG – the network for Partners and staff dedicated to creating an environment where lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people feel welcome and valued – with a series of events around the country. Our aim was to explore another environment that has struggled with LGBTI inclusion: the sporting field.
The quest for change in sport is being spearheaded by the creation of the soon to be launched Pride in Sport Index, an initiative of the Australian Human Rights Commission and Australian Sports Commission in consultation with Pride in Diversity.
Last year Out on the Fields, a world first international study on homophobia in sport was published. The study uncovered widespread homophobic behaviour with alarming numbers of participants feeling unsafe, experiencing violence, bullying and slurs, or choosing to stay in the closet for fear of repercussions.
As part of Pride@KPMG’s relaunch, we were joined on Monday in Sydney by former Australian of the Year and Dual Brownlow Medallist, Adam Goodes; CEO the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, Raelene Castle; and former Matilda, Sally Shipard. During the discussion (moderated by the Co-Founder of the Pride in Sport Index, Andrew Purchas), Adam noted that sport had offered him a platform, ‘a voice for my people, and for the people who didn’t yet have the confidence to find their own voice.’ He went on to explain that for many of his AFL teammates, his hand was the first Indigenous hand they had ever touched.
For all on the panel sport was seen as an enabler of change.
On Wednesday at KPMG Melbourne, Jason Ball, the first Aussie Rules footballer at any level of the game to publicly come out as gay, was joined by Victoria’s Commissioner for Gender and Sexuality Rowena Allen and St Kilda Saints player and LGBTI inclusion advocate Sam Gilbert. They spoke in depth about LGBTI inclusion, and what sporting bodies and government agencies are trying to change.
The discussion struck an optimistic note. Jason recounted a recent experience during an Aussie Rules match he was playing in Country Victoria where a spectator had yelled a homophobic slur at the players on the field. Almost immediately another spectator called out the behaviour – his taunt was not acceptable, ‘especially in this environment’.
The tide is continuing to turn.
Feature Image: L to R
Andrew Purchas, Andrew North, Adam Goodes, Sally Shipard, Matt McCarron, Raelene Castle