sports

Australia finally has its first female AFL players, and its first gay ones too.

Just over a week ago the face of Australian sport changed forever.

The long-awaited launch of the AFL Women’s League was met by tens of thousands of fans with open hearts — and opens lungs — cheering across boundary lines for four huge days of footy. Here’s what went down:

The women’s competition is already a welcome antidote to the boy’s club of it’s male-led counterpart. It also represents a much-needed, gigantic step forward, not just for the AFL, but for sport in this country as a whole.

With it, comes a new generation of diverse role models, like GWS Giants captain Emma Swanson, one of several openly same-sex attracted players in the league.

Thank YOU! #AFLW #AFLWomens

A photo posted by AFL Women’s (@aflwomens) on

“To put it into perspective for you, I probably couldn’t tell you who’s gay or who’s straight and it doesn’t mean anything anyway,” she told Mamamia.

“I know that there are some girls who have husbands in our team and some girls have a same-sex partner.

“It doesn’t actually play a part and we don’t judge on that and we don’t exclude people based on their sexuality.”

Swanson, 21, is in a relationship with her teammate and fellow marquee player 29-year-old Renee Forth.

The couple, who are both from Western Australia met in 2012 playing state-level football — unfortunately both are yet to debut in the AFLW due to injury.

ADVERTISEMENT
Rennee Forth and Emma Swanson. Source: Getty

For Swanson, who started playing football in the Under 12s in Perth, her sexuality has never restricted her sporting aspirations, unlike her gender, which kept her off the field for four years as a teenager.

“As a young girl in school I think I would have given anything to turn around and say I would love to play for the Giants," she said.

“[AFLW] is such a powerful thing and really equalising. I think it’s going to change the face of not just Australian sport but Australian society.”

Last year, the AFL held it's first ever Pride Game between Sydney and St Kilda, complete with rainbow umpire flags and rainbow scarves.

So excited to be here with @janetricegreens to watch the inaugural #AFLPride match.

A photo posted by Senator Richard Di Natale (@richarddinatale) on

ADVERTISEMENT

It was a watershed moment for a code that hasn't had an openly gay player in it's 121 year history, which simple maths will tell you is not because they don't exist.

Former VFL player Jason Ball, one of a sprinkling of gay Aussie rules players to have come out, described it as a potentially "life-changing event" for LGBTIQ young Australians, still six times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.

Lachlan Beaton, who played for the Melbourne University Blacks amateur side, knows first-hand the pain of having to hide your identity on the field.

Lachlan Beaton. Source: Facebook

Before coming out, he suffered through years of alcohol-abuse and suicidal thoughts in the blinkered world of men's footy.

Now in his 30s, the marriage equality advocate is a passionate supporter of AFLW.

"To be having females playing in front of big crowds and for big television audiences, it’s such a big message to the whole community that to play sport, to be successful, to make money, you don’t need to be that stereotypical masculine male," he told Mamamia.

ADVERTISEMENT

"Gay, straight, female, whoever you might be, it gives a lot of hope and in today’s society that’s something we need a lot of."

Unlike the men's, the women's competition is not bogged down in centuries of tradition, which, as Swanson explained, means they can smash stereotypes and create something "noone’s ever seen before".

It's an opportunity the midfielder, and her pioneering peers, are taking in their stride.

wen you laugh togetha cos you know ur gonna smash the patriarchy. . Tonight. 7.45pm. Ikon Park. #boundbyblue

A photo posted by Darcy Vescio (@darcyvee) on

"We’ve got this new brand of footy we’re creating," she said.

“I just want to break the preconceived ideas of what a gay person is ... We’re not all butch and masculine females, I like wearing dresses and doing my hair."

Outside of footy — and her day job — Swanson is an ambassador for LIVIN, an organisation fighting stigma around mental health and depression, which she knows comes "hand in hand with homophobia and your sexuality".

"To girls who are growing up and having a hard time I went though it too," she said.

“It’s okay to be you and you don’t have to change who you are because there is a place for you.”

00:00 / ???