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If Israel Folau is fired, it’s a warning to homophobes: You’re next

Rugby Australia says it intends to give Israel Folau a swift kick to the curb, despite his prowess on the pitch. Anti-gay athletes and fans, take note!

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Super Rugby Rd 8 - Blues v Waratahs
Israel Folau put his hand over his mouth during this rugby match on April 06, 2019 in Auckland, New Zealand, but he wasn’t so careful when he posted homophobic messages on Instagram.
Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images

Australian rugby star Israel Falou may yet survive his latest homophobic rant, and upon his fate hangs much more than the national team’s chances of a third World Cup.

As Outsports reported, the rugby fullback was told to cool his jets and avoid posting anti-LGBTQ messages on his social-media last year, and he did, for a time.

Now come reports from down under saying the management team for the fundamentalist Christian plan to fight a threatened sacking over his recent Instagram post. Falou issued a warning that gay people, among others, will go to hell unless we repent for our “sins.”

The Australian reports Falou’s player agent Isaac Moses will target Rugby Australia’s statement that it intends to terminate Folau’s contract without even suggesting a hearing.

If Folau can make the claim that he was denied fair process without a chance to defend himself before RA’s board of directors, prior to their decision to terminate his contract, it’s been reported he may yet prevail in court.

And if he does, it will be one more time that an antigay athlete, icon or celebrity escapes punishment for expressing hate through homophobia, transphobia, or willful ignorance of LGBTQ rights.

Battle lines are drawn

Already, Australian radio icon Alan Jones has come to Folau’s defense, claiming the threat to tear up his contract has “completely corrupted” free speech. British rugby star Billy Vunipola has also voiced his support for Folau, and for that he faces disciplinary action by his team and league; his stance has already cost him a job as a rugby television coverage analyst with UK’s Channel Four. And social media is replete with those emboldened by Folau’s rant, who applauded his bigotry.

Many claim he’s merely expressing his “deeply-held religious beliefs.” Some Christians even go so far as to demand that “inclusion must mean religious inclusion,” too, conveniently flipping the narrative away from the fact that religious intolerance of LGBTQ rights is at the root of this controversy. No gay, lesbian, bi, trans or queer person aims to impede the freedom of anyone else to worship, but when worshippers make rejection of love a pillar of their faith and call our orientation or identity a “lifestyle,” or denounce us as “sinful,” or warn us we are destined for eternal damnation, how is that “inclusion?” What is faith when it is predicated on the alienation and willful harassment of a marginalized population?

A majority of LGBTQ Christians, including those in that part of the world, actually interpret the scriptures to say “all people, no matter their sexuality, gender or race, are accepted and loved by God. The narrative of the Scriptures lends itself to a theology of inclusion and acceptance, rather than the stance of exclusion many Christian communities have adopted.”

Others say it’s not Falou’s fault, that he is merely being who he is, and that Rugby Australia is to blame for signing him to a new four-year deal last year. Australian writer Paul Cully called him a timebomb, saying RA should have known better, and that this mess was entirely avoidable.

Hindsight, once again, proven to be 20/20.

Send a message: Homophobia is wrong and won’t be tolerated

Let’s look at the upside if RA sticks to its guns and makes Folau pay the price for his horrid, hateful posts.

The actions of one faraway league will not intimidate every bigot. But his firing will still send a strong message to athletes and sports organizations the world over: preach against equality, and you could be fired next. Support bullies, and you risk the consequences. Look the other way when we are maligned, and we will call you out.

Anyone who’s ever withstood the slurs of “faggot,” fought back when bullies attacked, who’s refused to be misgendered, erased for being bi, ridiculed for non-binary expression, or to be ostracized by religious hypocrites, will win the day. Victory will be ours, and our enemies everywhere will experience a long overdue comeuppance. We can only hope.

And those who share Folau’s views, even those who claim “free speech” or “religious freedom” as their defense to discriminate and hate, will rue the day. Defeat will be theirs, and our allies everywhere will celebrate with us. Or so we hope.

Those who oppose us will cry, grind their teeth and shake their fists, and claim they are victims of religious discrimination. They may even lash out at our community, retaliating with violence. We would hope not, but even so, we will stand firm.

Words matter

We stand with former player Jason Ball who wrote eloquently about what Israel Falou’s words meant to him. Here’s a portion:

“When I read Israel Folau’s comments on Wednesday they took me right back to a place of shame and isolation.

“I was 12 years old when I figured out that I was gay.

“At the time, I thought it was the worst possible thing I could be.

“I loved playing sport, but on the footy field, the word gay was used to mean bad, weak, stupid or disgusting.

“I internalised those words, and for years I hid my true self from my teammates.

“The toll it took on my mental health was profound. At times I wondered if it would be easier if I didn’t exist.

“I am now an out and proud gay man, but it broke my heart to think of all the kids struggling to come to terms with their sexuality who would hear Folau’s assertions that “hell awaits” them and feel ashamed, afraid and alone.

“It’s this kind of ignorance that contributes to the disproportionately high rates of depression, anxiety and suicide among young LGBTI people.

“Words matter. They have the power to lift us up, but they also have the power to cause enormous damage.

“While I support freedom of speech, no freedom is absolute nor without consequence.

“Folau’s right to express his religious beliefs ends when those comments risk inflicting grave harm on an already marginalised community.”

Send Rugby Australia a message of support via social media, not with the intention to cause anyone harm, but to show that we demand action when we are attacked. You can start by RT’ing my tweet: