Alex Blackwell has been a pioneer in more ways than one – off the field, she has been an outspoken champion of same-sex rights.
She was a strong voice for Australia’s same-sex marriage referendum and with the Supreme Court of India last week throwing out Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, in place since 1861 to criminalise sexual activities ‘against the order of nature’, Blackwell expressed her happiness. She lauded the activists who made the change possible, but added “there is more to change”.
Speaking to Mumbai Mirror from Canada, the recently-retired Blackwell, 35, added, “Even in a country like Australia, where homosexuality was not criminal for many years, and even so, we only achieved marriage equality recently.
Thank you @vijaymirror for reaching out to speak with me about the recent decriminalisation of homosexuality in India and writing this article for the @MumbaiMirror. A great step forward for equal rights and respect for same-sex attracted ppl in India #LGBTQI #HumanRights https://t.co/xmfqomndP7
— Alex Blackwell (@AlexBlackwell2) September 10, 2018
“Even though it is a nation of acceptance of difference, there are not that many prominent athletes, particularly in the male sport. In the women’s sport, we’ve more examples of people being able to be themselves, be authentic and be visible. It’s almost like a shining light that in women’s sport, people are able to come out, like myself.”
Like Blackwell, who led Australia to the title at the 2010 World T20 and has multiple world champion medals with her team, her team-mates Megan Schutt, Elyse Villani and Jess Jonassen have been vocal about gay rights. South Africans Dane van Niekerk and Marizanne Kapp made their choices public and exchanged marriage vows earlier this year, as have White Ferns cricketers Lea Tahuhu and Amy Satterthwaite.
But the examples among men are few and far between – Steven Davies, the wicket-keeper who played 13 limited-overs internationals between 2009 and 2011, became the first prominent cricketer to come out as gay in 2011, but it’s not a long list.
“I still feel it’s being difficult for men, even though homosexuality is not illegal in Australia, just as in India now. It is difficult for the male athletes to be authentic and be true to themselves. I put myself out there to make the male sport a more inclusive place and whatever environment they are in, there is really nothing to be ashamed of,” Blackwell said.
“Statistically, it shows that male sportspersons who are gay exist though we don’t hear about them as often. In fact, in Australia, some of the greatest of our athletes have been gay: Ian Thorpe (the swimmer) for instance. I look at him as an example but he came out after he finished. We want to make sure that sport is an environment that is welcoming everyone. (It’s) because, we don’t want to reject any possible future world champion. And they just might be gay. Sports have a long way to go to be fully inclusive of divergent sexuality and gender identity.”
Even if laws change, attitudes of people don’t necessarily keep pace – homophobia remains rampant even in developed parts of the world, and that is a bigger concern for someone like Blackwell.
“I am comfortable with who I am. The question, however, is that if I would be fully accepted in the public eye. We need to say that athletes can truly be themselves and they can share who they are when sport as a business would support them and celebrate them,” she argued.
“We need to continue to see the examples that sponsors would rally behind the athletes. That is one of the things holding some athletes back. They feel that coming out would be detrimental to their profile and career. We need to show examples that would not be the case. I am yet to see many of those examples.”
Addressing Indian women cricketers in response to a question, Blackwell asked for everyone to be ‘what you are’.
“As part of LGBTI community around the world, I accept that this decision (the Indian verdict) is something to be celebrated by many of the Indian cricketers. I can’t speak for anyone in the Indian cricket team, but I think they will be proud of what happened recently,” she said.
“You must take the step to be what you are. From my point of view, it’s the best way to go. I know it can be very hard. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve had family support. At the end of the day, it’s the best gift you can give yourself.”