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Opinion: Why I’m happy and sad an ex-All Black has come out

This week, former New Zealand All Black Campbell Johnstone became the first ever member of that elite rugby squad to come out as gay. Rightly, he has been lauded and supported over his announcement, and gained support from the institution of which he once part.

What makes Johnstone’s announcement surprising for me is that he left the public eye some 18 years ago. He has been grappling with his sexual orientation for a long time, even longer than the almost two decades since he left the All Blacks.

It makes me feel very sad that in present day seemingly liberal New Zealand a gay man of high stature can still struggle with his identity. Equally sad is that in the days Johnstone was playing rugby for the All Blacks, there was a show called Queer Nation being broadcast weekly on New Zealand television. 

From 1996 until late 2004, I hosted that television show. It was a current affairs/lifestyle programme that showcased and celebrated the LGBTQ+ communities in Aotearoa and it made a significant contribution to the on going identity and emancipation of queer people in this country. At the time it was on air, and in particular its early days, it could be argued that I was the most out gay man in the country. 

Interestingly, despite the occasional piece of hilariously bigoted hate mail directed at the show, I was never harassed by straight people and in fact, would often be stopped in the street by them saying how much they loved the show and how ‘ok’ they are with gay people. 

So, I wonder why so many years later, it can still be difficult for LGBTQ people to come out. Well, the truth is, no matter how much public opinion changes, no matter how many laws are passed granting equality and outlawing discrimination, some humans will always hate other human beings. 

There are still racist, sexist, homophobic people on the planet, and even though I believe they are in a minority, they will sadly continue to exist. The best we can hope for is that the minority continues to shrink, and that people continue to stand up for the civil rights of others.

So I applaud Campbell Johnstone for publicly living his truth. He joins a long line of brave people who have come out. He deserves all our support. And for anyone who still hasn’t yet been able to come out, I say to you: “take your time, and do it when you feel safe and comfortable to do so.”

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