Opinion: Why TJ Perenara's comments about gay rugby players do matter

This week, Magic Talk host Sean Plunket shared with the world his thoughts on why All Black TJ Perenara should stick to his rugby and leave the topic of sexual diversity alone, telling his listeners Perenara is "just a rugby player".

This was in response to an interview published in the LGBTIQ magazine, Express, where TJ Perenara said the All Blacks embrace diversity.

"Our job is to make sure that people from all communities feel comfortable enough to aspire to want to be an All Black, so I would hope that if anyone from the LGBTQIA+ community became an All Black, they would feel accepted and wanted in the environment," Perenara told the magazine.

Plunket told listeners that Perenara should leave the topic of diversity alone.

"Whether or not you approve it or not has got nothing to do with anything. I'm far more interested in [Ardie] Savea's glasses than your views on gayness, social justice or climate change, TJ, you are a rugby player," Plunket said.

"You pass the ball very well, but I am not interested in your views on all these other things."

Plunket's comments that Perenara "passes the ball very well", but his opinions don't matter, sound to me like a man telling a woman to get back in the kitchen.
I simply cannot get my head around why someone feels the need to share such an out-of-date opinion.

Being accepting of diversity and inclusion isn't being 'woke', it's simply being a nice human being.

When Perenara spoke out about LGBTIQ rights after Israel Folau's post on Instagram saying gay people (myself included) were all going to hell, its impact was huge.
Perenara was one of the first high-profile people to publicly denounce the comments.
"I'd like to add my voice to the conversation currently taking place," Perenara posted on Twitter.

"As professional rugby players, whether we like it or not, we are role models for a lot of young people. Notably, young Māori and Pasifika people.

"You don't need to look far to know that young Māori/PI are overrepresented in youth suicide statistics and, as I understand it, even more so when you look to those who are part of the rainbow community. Comments that cause further harm cannot be tolerated."

And he is right. Research shows that gay, lesbian and bisexual New Zealanders are more than twice as likely to experience depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. 

Just last week, data from a survey which took place this year in New Zealand revealed 56 percent of those who took part in the research said they'd seriously considered attempting suicide, and 12 percent had attempted it.

Plunket saying something that causes offence is nothing new, in fact it's probably a daily occurrence, and a part of me thought it best to just let it slide. But after receiving messages from members of the LGBTIQ community expressing their disappointment in the comments, I decided to speak up.

So if you were one of those who were disappointed, know you're not the only one. 
In amongst his comments, Plunket also took aim at companies who have Rainbow Tick accreditation, calling for them to send the accreditation back, calling it a rort.

The Rainbow Tick is a bit like a seal of approval that an organisation has an environment which is welcoming and inclusive for members of the Rainbow community. 

Mediaworks is one of the companies who have the Rainbow Tick.

"I would now look sideways at organisations, including the one I work for, who make a big deal about having the Rainbow Tick, they have revealed themselves very much as thought fascists."

As a member of a very small passionate group of people here at Mediaworks who spend their own time and money pushing for not only our workplace, but our wider society to become more accepting and supportive of the LGBTIQ community, I too was very disappointed.

If I had a choice about what we could return to sender, it wouldn't be the Rainbow Tick.

Opinion: Why TJ Perenara's comments about gay rugby players do matter
Photo credit: Getty Images/Newshub.

Comments posted on Newshub's Facebook page have thankfully shown that I'm not alone in being bothered by what Plunnket said.

"When the tournament is over I would like to hear Plunket say it directly to TJ's face instead of behind his microphone," one person said.

But the best response came from Perenara's mother, who said her son is "more than just a great rugby player".

"He has learnt that we must ensure we are all OK. No one is left behind. No one should be reeling in riches while others can’t put food on the table. Everyone should have the right to fall in love and be loved," she said.

"You simply cannot help what the heart feels, go with it and be happy. Life is far too short to worry about opinions like yours raining down from your 'ivory towers'."

"John Campbell is a bloody good bloke, be like John," Fiona Perenara posted.

It feels like ever since the morning Greta Thunberg spoke at the United Nations about her passion for saving the world, suddenly - like a Mexican wave at Eden Park - middle-aged, wealthy, male broadcasters have vented their rage on whatever platform they could scramble to. 

As much as I dislike the word 'woke', I'll use it to finish up. 

The opposite of woke is to be asleep, and I think that's what the people who share these sorts of outdated opinions are doing. Sleeping. 

Most of us have woken up and smelt the coffee. 

Diverse coffee, and it smells good.

Dan Lake is Newshub's Travel Editor and host of the LGBTIQ podcast, The Outlook.

The OUTlook: Queer news, views and culture with host Dan Lake.

Get in touch by emailing The OUTLook: theoutlook@mediaworks.co.nz

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