WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - OCTOBER 27: Brianna Edwards poses during the Wellington Phoenix 2022-23 A-League Womens headshots session at NZCIS on October 27, 2022 in Wellington, New Zealand. | Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

The annual Pride festival in New Zealand’s capital city kicked off over the weekend with a special “Pride Round” of matches featuring the local men’s and women’s soccer A-league teams.

In the lead-up to the weekend doubleheader, 20-year-old goalkeeper Brianna Edwards, who plays for the Phoenix soccer club and the New Zealand national team, spoke at a media briefing about the importance of holding Pride events and supporting the LGBTQ community.

“Personally, it’s a huge moment for me to be able to step on the field with a club and a team that supports me and other people like me, and I think that’s that’s really exciting,” she said. “There’s so much room for more awareness and more love and more of everything in this game and in the world.”

Just before the match, the team posed together for a photo wearing a rainbow of colored shirts in honor of the Pride Round.

The Phoenix women tied 1-1 against Brisbane Roar on Saturday, while the men overcame the Newcastle Jets 2-1. As part of the day’s celebrations, a dollar from every ticket sold in the selected fan zone would be donated to the LGBTQ charity Rainbow Youth.

Local supporters groups also took the opportunity to rally their fellow fans and raise funds for another LGBTQ youth charity, InsideOUT Kōaro.

Phoenix supporters carrying a rainbow flag show their support for Brianna Edwards during Saturday’s game against Brisbane.

On Sunday, Edwards drew upon the weekend’s focus on LGBTQ issues to share a personal, earnest reflection on her own coming out journey. An excerpt is below:

Today, I am proud of who I am. A daughter, a sister, a friend, a footballer, a learner, a sharer, a leader, a member of the LGBTQIA+ community and now a storyteller.

Brene Brown taught me that I truly belong when I believe in and belong to myself so much that I can show my most authentic self to the world. She showed me that when I am part of something bigger than me and also have the courage to stand alone and be who I am no matter what, I will feel most at home.

But I didn’t always feel at home in myself.

When learning about and exploring my sexuality I was confident and excited, I was discovering who I was without the guidance of my family and friends. But I was scared. I was scared to show who I was to the world. But most of all I was scared to show me. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was that I’d never heard my family and friends talk openly about gay people. Or that ‘gay’ was used in harmful ways by my peers throughout my teenage years. Or perhaps I was scared of conforming to stigmas and stereotypes surrounding women in sport.

I’d never known the people around me to be allies or acceptors, I became lost in myself and frightened of not only what others would think, but I what I would think. I knew they could learn to love me. That I could be the confident, outgoing and energetic Bri, no matter who I was or what my sexuality was. But I didn’t know how to love myself when I didn’t even belong to the self that I was showing the world.

Today and everyday I am trying to be true to me without any hesitation or apologies. For the little girl who refused to wear fitted clothes and the kid that loved Star Wars more than Barbies. For the 14 year old who felt she had to wear a bikini and the 16 year old who was frightened of becoming a ‘gay footballer’. For the 18 year old who thought that her sexuality defined her and the 20 year old who wants to be a voice for others but still finds herself uncomfortable when speaking her truth to strangers. I spent so long forcing myself to believe that the version of me that I wanted to be wasn’t enough to be liked by the rest of the world. That no one would accept me the way that I am. That I wouldn’t accept me.

So here I am. Sharing my story, belonging to myself, without judgement, without apologies and without hesitation.

As Wellington Pride festivities continue through March 18, Edwards’ calls to action embody the spirit of the event: love unconditionally, be proud, and stand where you are seen and heard for being authentically you.