When a police mugshot of Danielle Laidley was leaked online in 2020, the former Aussie Rules footballer’s gender identity became the talk of Australia.
She had previously been known nationwide as a successful AFL player and coach, part of the North Melbourne team that won the 1996 premiership and then the senior coach of the Kangaroos from 2003 to 2009.
Coaching spells at several other major AFL clubs had followed but Laidley had been largely off the sporting radar until that May weekend three years ago when she was arrested in Melbourne and charged with stalking.
Suddenly, a secret she had carried for years became public in the most shocking way. The vast majority of people who knew her had no idea that she was transgender.
Now a new feature documentary titled ‘Revealed: Danielle Laidley: Two Tribes’ has been released by streaming service Stan, putting the 56-year-old right at the heart of her own story.
Those tribes are the AFL and the LGBTQ communities. In the trailer, Laidley is seen during her first public appearance as herself, at a North Melbourne club event in November 2021. “Today is the first time that I’ve represented both my tribes,” she tells the audience.
Having already penned a memoir ‘Don’t Look Away’, which was published a year ago to strong reviews, Laidley says the new documentary will not only give her more control over the personal narrative she lost so dramatically but also raise further awareness around gender dysphoria and the intense distress that some trans people go through.
Raw and unflinching, the film uses archive photos and dramatizations to chart Laidley’s journey from a childhood in a working-class Perth suburb to being known as one of the most aggressive players in Australia’s most macho sport.
The revelations include the moment in 2019 when Laidley accidentally sent a photo of herself in full make-up and wig to her children via Snapchat. She had been living apart from her family at the time.
That error and the media frenzy around her arrest the following May caused, in Laidley’s words, “panic and devastation” for her daughters. They have not yet been reconciled, although son Kane has been publicly supportive and appears in the documentary.
So does Donna Leckie, Laidley’s partner — they were former childhood sweethearts who have rekindled their romance in recent years.
There was a standing ovation at the premiere event held at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Melbourne on Monday night. Some of Laidley’s former Kangaroos teammates were among those in attendance, along with AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan.
In a Q&A after the screening, Laidley said: “I could sit down with every single person who’s in this room who’s had an impact on my life in one way or the other and I’m so very grateful for that — and very grateful that people accept me for who I am now and to be able to live this life.”
The AFL has come in for criticism on LGBTQ inclusion in recent weeks. There has never been an out gay male professional player active in the sport and it was suggested in an ABC TV current affairs program that league chiefs were failing in their approach.
However, in interviews promoting the documentary, Laidley has defended the AFL and insists the organization is not homophobic.
“There may be gay players — their teammates know, their families and friends know. That’s all that’s important,” she said in a report carried by Guardian Australia.
“It’s more a societal issue and hopefully I’ve been able to break down some of those barriers.”
She insists the acceptance that she received from the AFL in the aftermath of her arrest ultimately saved her life.
At the premiere, Laidley said: “I was in that 1.8% of transgender people that hid it from the world.” She goes on to offer advice to those who are suppressing their identity: “Be vulnerable, find some people who you can trust and they’ll support you.”