By Christopher Dastoor
Gay women still face mental obstacles when it comes to playing sport, as the battle for social acceptance and equality continues.
Retired hockey player De-Anne Gilbert’s career started at age 16 when she made the Adelaide Suns in 2002, followed by the Hockeyroos development squad in 2005.
Gilbert received a scholarship with the Australian Institute of Sport, moved to Perth and was selected into the 2006 Women’s Hockey World Cup squad.
“I played football in primary school, but women’s football in those days wasn’t recognised, so I played hockey and took up a career in that,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert was the reserve goalkeeper in the 2006 tournament, where they lost to the Dutch in the final, finishing with a silver medal.
After retiring from hockey in 2013, Gilbert made selections for the SANFL, but missed the opportunity due to injury and instead played for the Greenacres Football Club.
“One of my teammates from primary school ended up playing for a junior boys’ team and copped a lot of criticism,” Gilbert said.
“There were quite a few parents who were concerned about the boys not being able to tackle her and it caused drama.”
This type of tension, created purely for being a woman playing sport, made Gilbert feel her sexuality wouldn’t be accepted either.
“I created some of the stigma because I knew being gay wasn’t considered normal, so I shut myself off, didn’t talk to people and alienated myself,” Gilbert said.
In her experience, Gilbert said the environment playing sports was different because it was sympathetic.
Inside those clubs, many women in the same position had gone through those struggles and shared experiences.
“They were pretty proud of who they were and supported me when I was living in Perth,” Gilbert said.
“It was a difficult transition for me, because I had this pre-conceived idea of what some of the people in the community thought about people like me.”
“My biggest fear was losing my family, because I had heard a lot of people lost their families after coming out.”
Molly Nichols-Pavy played basketball at state level under-14s, and was a two-time state title winner in BMX, reaching ninth in the world for under-16s girls BMX racing.
Nichols-Pavy grew up in Cudlee Creek, a small town in the hills, with a male-dominated social group that suited her self-described tomboy personality.
Currently, Nichols-Pavy plays Aussie rules football and has won the best and fairest at her club.
“I was an athletic kid, all I ever did was play sport with the boys and I loved it,” Nichols-Pavy said.
Nichols-Pavy said she never thought about her sexuality until she was a teenager, when certain personal traits were acknowledged by others.
“I was training at the velodrome and a coach made the comment ‘I like kissing girls too’ and it just rattled me,” Nichols-Pavy said.
“I didn’t even understand I looked gay and for him to say it was very confronting, he said it in front of everybody and I didn’t know what it meant.”
Nichols-Pavy said having female athletes prominent in schools and junior programs, like male athletes currently are, helps significantly.
“When I was a kid and I met female athletes, it really inspired me because it makes you think it’s a thing you can do,” Nichols-Pavy said.
Nichols-Pavy’s advice is that you can’t suppress your sexuality, so it’s important to keep enjoying your sports and find the right people to talk to.
Gilbert said the advice she would give to a young person in her position is to follow your dreams.
“What helped me through was I stuck to my dreams and stuck to my goals, playing sport was time for me to be free,” Gilbert said.
“It took me away from my problems, it gave me something to look forward to and work for.”
“I would encourage to stick it out and kill negative people with kindness or just move elsewhere because this sort of stuff is starting to thin out,” Nichols-Pavy said.
Image Source: Australian Olympic Committee