Matt Johnson is a young sports photographer based in Melbourne, Australia. He is also openly gay, yet was still shaken when a fan yelled a gay slur at him at a recent pro soccer game.
Johnson, 25, was covering the A-League soccer match (the nation’s top soccer league) between Melbourne Victory and Newcastle Jets in Melbourne on Jan. 12. As the match ended, a fan shouted out to Johnson:
“Hey gay boy … hey gay boy, did you enjoy the game?”
Despite progress LGBT people in sports have seen, the slur still stunned Johnson, as he recounted on Twitter:
Tonight I finally heard the one thing I’ve always dreaded while being involved in sports -- a homophobic slur. Directed at me. By a fan.
My guess it’s because of the hair, and they may have felt the comment was innocuous, something that’d be brushed off.
But my mind cast back to growing up, constantly scared of who I was. Sports can be a tough place for any outsider, let alone for folks who identify similarly.
Thankfully that ain’t the case for me anymore, but regardless I froze, paralyzed by someone trying to belittle me while doing my job. ...
These words are used to be emasculating. They make you feel like shit.
Trust me, I know.
In a followup article this week, Johnson said he publicized the incident “in the hope of not only finding a culprit, but to highlight the ongoing homophobia that remains prevalent, especially within sports. It’s one of the major contributors to the lack of LGBTI+ representation within male sports in Australia, where presently not one participant in the top-tier professional leagues of our most-loved sporting codes identifies as gay.”
Johnson rightly urged LGBT people and allies to call out this type of behavior whenever they hear it. And he said he wouldn’t let it ruin what has been a “brilliant” season of shooting for him. Good for him for being out and bringing attention to this issue. Words matter and any slur needs to be met head on.