Lizzie Marvelly: Are we ready for first gay All Black?

Round of applause for greater diversity on screen - and fields.
The Disney-Pixar film Finding Dory, starring lesbian comedian Ellen Degeneres, may be a first for the production company. Photo / Supplied
The Disney-Pixar film Finding Dory, starring lesbian comedian Ellen Degeneres, may be a first for the production company. Photo / Supplied

What do the All Blacks and Disney-Pixar film Finding Dory have in common? This week they both seemed to declare their support for the gay community.

All Blacks chief executive Steve Tew addressed the possibility of a gay All Black in an announcement on Tuesday. "Are we ready for a gay All Black? I absolutely think we are," Tew said. "No one has yet said they're an All Black and gay, one day that will happen, and I would hope New Zealand is more than ready, in fact is welcoming of it."

I'd hope so too.

The All Blacks have given us a lot to be proud of over the years. World Cups, stunning Aussie-smashing victories, and now a commitment to supporting gay players.

Traditionally a microcosm of staunch Kiwi masculinity, the All Blacks' team has likely included gay players in the past, though none have openly discussed their sexuality.

Olympic rower Robbie Manson, who came out publicly in 2014, believes an openly gay All Black would make life easier for young people struggling with their sexuality.

"That's our national sport and to have an All Black come out and say 'yeah, I am and it's not a big deal' would really send the ultimate message," he told Fairfax at the time.

Yet in 2016, no All Black has ever come out publicly. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why. Given the huge media spotlight on the team, a gay All Black would likely be a big news story, and inevitably, not all responses would be positive.

That is just one reason why we need better representation of LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual) people, especially in the media. A challenge the highly anticipated Finding Nemo sequel appears to be taking on.

A recently released trailer for the film, which centres on Ellen DeGeneres' chronically forgetful Dory, includes a scene in which an octopus knocks a toddler out of her pram. When her caregivers turn around, they both appear to be women. Of course two women caring for a baby does not necessarily same-sex parents make, but social media quickly erupted with speculation.

If the two women are in fact lesbians, their inclusion will mark a vital first for Disney-Pixar, and an important win in the battle to increase diversity, particularly in children's films.

With the vast majority of our modern society supportive of LGBT+ rights, it is frankly time to leave the ignorant and fearful behind.

The cry for inclusion has been gaining traction recently, with the #GiveElsaAGirlfriend hashtag - a campaign asking Disney to portray Frozen's Queen Elsa in a same-sex relationship - igniting a media storm that was eventually supported by Idina Menzel, who voices the character. As one Twitter user remarked, it's time to "give LGBT children THEIR happy ending".

Our cultural institutions, from the All Blacks to Disney movies, are vital reflections of what we value as a society. For children living in a mercifully increasingly diverse world, seeing LGBT+ characters on screen and players on the field strikes back against a dominantly heteronormative society that traditionally excludes those who are not heterosexual or cisgender.

And for kids who are LGBT+ themselves, or come from LGBT+ families, the power of those representations can't be underestimated. For all children, having characters and sporting heroes that reflect the true diversity of our modern world can only be a good thing.

Far stranger than gay All Blacks and lesbian couples in Finding Dory surely is their absence to date. When we exclude or ignore LGBT+ people, or deny that their love stories are just as valid as those of heterosexual couples, we're engaging in an elaborate societal denial that is incongruent with the state of our world.

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When every Disney Princess ends up with a Disney Prince, children are implicitly told that heterosexual love is the only love worth celebrating. When every All Black is a staunch, macho, heterosexual man, our hero worship of the team problematically sends the message that those attributes are prioritised and somehow better than any alternative. When all parents shown in kids' movies are heterosexual, other kinds of families are made to seem somehow strange or abnormal.

Disney didn't include a single LGBT+ character in the 11 feature films it released in 2015. It says a lot that the internet could be whipped into a frenzy over a few seconds in a video appearing to show what might be lesbian mums. The occurrence is so rare that it didn't take much to create a wave of wishful thinking.

Though, of course, not all commenters were wishing for the inclusion of a same-sex couple in a kids' movie. Some apparently will now boycott the film over those few seconds of maybe-or-maybe-not lesbianism. And presumably hope that their children never run into any LGBT+ people ever in real life. Even today, fear and ignorance make potent bedfellows.

But with the vast majority of our modern society supportive of LGBT+ rights, it is frankly time to leave the ignorant and fearful behind. It's time for Elsa to have a girlfriend, and for there to be lesbian parents in children's movies. It's time for children to see truer reflections of the world in the media aimed at them, and for all LGBT+ children to know that they are normal. Whatever that may be.

It's time for us to have openly gay All Blacks (and for their coming out to be trauma-free). It's time for any little boy who is gay to know that he too can aspire to be an All Black.

- NZ Herald

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