Opinion: Why I confronted someone for using 'gay' in a negative way at the rugby - and what happened

Opinion: Why I confronted someone for using 'gay' in a negative way at the rugby - and what happened
Photo credit: Getty/Newshub

OPINION: The sun was out, it was the morning after the 2020 New Zealand election, so there were plenty of topics for my gaggle of news geeks to talk about - and the All Blacks had just performed 'Kapa o Pango'.

A total goosebump moment.

Not far from us sat a prominent Kiwi - someone famous - who was attracting attention.

The banter was fun and friendly, genuinely nice people simply saying hello to a familiar face.

We were up to selfie No.3... again, nothing unusual about it, just someone getting their phone out and posing for a photo.

Then one of their friends decided to chime in with his thoughts on the selfie situation.

"That's so f**king gay!" he yelled.

My head dropped.

"There's nothing wrong with taking selfies, but you're so f**king gay," he continued.

Despite me interjecting and pointing out that it takes a lot more than snapping a selfie with another man to make oneself gay, the man continued, until the selfie process was complete, before heading back to his seat.

As the All Blacks gathered steam on the field, I gathered steam between my ears.

No-one - gay, straight or anything else - should be made to feel unwelcome at a public event, especially at a stadium in their home city, watching our nation's game.

In disbelief, another friend and I discussed how blatant and blasé the man was about using the word 'gay' - at volume - as an insult in 2020.

We decided that if anything was going to change, we needed to call the man out.

Queer rugby fans shouldn't feel uncomfortable at live matches.
Queer rugby fans shouldn't feel uncomfortable at live matches. Photo credit: Getty.

So we walked over, said hello, and asked him about the incident and why he had chosen that particular word to mock his friend.

As expected, he "didn't know" and "just said it".

"What I meant was, he's a lame ass," he protested, "I too have friends that are gay." 

"And my husband is Samoan, so talofa," my friend replied.

Those seated around the man insisted he just apologise, but he continued to defend himself, even claiming we were actually the ones being homophobic.

"You're the one that's decided that it [being gay] is a negative comment, it's not me that made it bad," he said.

"My nephew is gay as well, what I meant to say was you're a lame ass."

That wasn't so much an excuse as a reason why he should be far more careful about what he says.

As the crowd around us rapidly changed their focus from the battle on the field to the battle in the stand, cracks began to appear in the man's staunch facade.

"I didn't mean to offend," he said. "I should have thought about it before I said it.

"I'm genuinely sorry."

All of a sudden, I felt like Caleb Clarke. We had broken through the defensive wall and were making progress, with the try-line in sight.

I told him that, while it was just a word to him, he had no idea what the consequences of using that word could be.

Had someone said that near 14-year-old Dan Lake at the rugby, it would have ruined my day and I probably would never have returned to Eden Park again. I would have stopped supporting teams like the All Blacks and Blackcaps.

Those teams and venues would have lost a fan who has spent thousands of dollars supporting them over the years, through ticketing and merchandise. 

I've highlighted this problem since 2018

So I'm calling for two things.

The first is for others to step in like my friends and I did whenever they hear something derogatory or homophobic, and call that person out. Maybe remind them of our appalling stats around suicide and poor mental health among young, queer Kiwis.

If they don't think something as simple as using the word 'gay' in a negative way could be linked to such a serious issue as depression, they're wrong. Demonstrably, it really can.

Secondly, major sports brands must support their queer fans as much as their queer fans support them.

I've often worn things like little rainbow badges to big sporting events, including rugby games, essentially just to practice what I preach - to show you can be both a rugby fan and gay.

As a result, I know that the use of words like 'faggot' and 'homo' are all too common, even in 2020. 

What your lovely, urban, open-minded husband or friend might say in the privacy of a men's bathroom at a sports stadium may shock you.

Back to Sunday, and as our own personal Eden Park clash came to an end, we hadn't quite landed a conversion, but we made progress.

I just hope Aotearoa's sporting culture can do to homophobia what the All Blacks did to Australia at the weekend.

Dan Lake is Newshub's travel editor and reports on LGBTQI+ issues.