PHOTOS: Australian Football Players Lead Pride Parade In Melbourne

On Sunday, professional Australian Football League players lead the 18th annual Pride March Victoria in Melbourne, Australia. Richmond midfielder Dan Jackson and Carlton midfielder Brock McLean, the first AFL players to participate in a Pride parade, joined openly gay pro Jason Ball, his teammates from Yarra Glen and thousands of others down St. Kilda’s Fitzroy Street.

The guys weren’t just being supportive mates, either: McLean has discussed his sister’s difficult coming-out process and was joined by her in the procession. Jackson works with the youth mental-health advocacy group headspace, where he learned of the high risks for suicide and depression faced by LGBT kids. ”People need to be able to be proud of who they are,” said Jackson. “If, by [us] marching, people who are gay feel a bit more supported by us as individuals and as footballers, then that’s a good achievement.

Mclean believes there’s no denying there’s homophobia in the sport. “The AFl and players have been so quiet on this issue for so long, they’re sort of pretending like it’s not there,” he told the Herald Sun. “But there is an issue there.”

Australian football, like its American cousin, has seen both positive and negative actions regarding anti-gay bias: In 2010, AFL player Jason Akermani wrote an op-ed saying it’d be best for gay players to stay in the closet because the league just isn’t ready for homosexuals. Last year, player Stephen Milne called another team’s player a “fucking homo,” and received a slap on the hand.

But partly as a response, the league launched “No to Homophobia,” a major campaign that aired videos during league finals. Ball, McLean and Jackson would like to see more—they’re calling for the AFL to adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward homophobia, and to stage a special Pride round to show solidarity with the LGBT community.

“It would be great for the AFL to do more,” Ball said last fall when he launched a petition urging the AFL to ramp up its efforts.  “They’ve done such great work with racial vilification and respect and responsibility for women. So if they could fit in the gay movement and anti-discrimination as a whole, I think that’d be great for the Australian community.”

Photos: Pride March Victoria

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