Dan Palmer, the first professional player in Australian rugby to come out as gay, has gotten candid about his struggles with coming out, and the severe depression he experienced as a result of homophobic attitudes in sports.
The Daily Mail reports that Palmer told journalist Lisa Wilkinson that, early in his career, he would have rather died than come out of the closet.
“My own death felt preferable to anybody discovering I was gay,” Palmer said. “It was. It’s the reality. I mean, there’s nothing, there’s no exaggeration there,” Palmer said. “That’s the reality and that was the reality for quite a long time.” Palmer also added that he “fantasized about disappearing, changing my name and starting my life all over again.”
Palmer landed a spot on the Aussie team the Wallabys in 2012, and earned international attention in a match against Scotland that year. Uncomfortable with his closeted status, he transferred to the French team Grenoble the following year. Yet, the isolation of living in a new country only made Palmer feel worse. He attempted suicide through drug overdose.
The next day, Palmer met with a friend in London where he finally came out as gay. At the time, the player felt so ashamed, he had to write the words on a slip of paper and pass it to his friend. “He was supportive and after that I felt amazing,” Palmer recalls. “The next day the sun rises and nothing’s changed, the world goes on and nobody cares.”
In the same interview, Palmer slammed former Wallaby player Israel Folau, who posted to social media his belief that gay people go to Hell in April 2019. The comment invited wide backlash, and the Wallabies dropped Folau as a player as a result.
For Palmer though, the future looks bright. His coming out invited an outcry of support as well as a chorus of “thank yous” from fans struggling with their own sexuality.
“It’s been overwhelming,” Palmer says of the reception. “And a lot of people have expressed their gratitude. The point is that you’re in some ways taking a stand and being visible for people who haven’t quite got that voice yet. If it has helped somebody in some way then I’m very happy about that.”
Palmer has since retired from rugby and returned to university studies, not to mention lost a huge amount of weight. At the moment, he is pursuing a PhD. in cellular mechanisms of brain function at Australian National University.