Rugby Australia’s settlement of the Israel Folau case is not a backdown, but rather a win for at-risk LGBT kids on what is a “public health issue”, says a leading behavioural scientist.
RA’s decision to resolve the matter before trial was necessary to “stop the misinformed armchair commentary from people who clearly don’t understand that children’s lives are at stake”, according to Monash University researcher Erik Denison.
He’s conducted nearly 20 studies in 42 different sports on the impacts of homophobic language on kids, and says the link between homophobic language and the high rates of suicide and self-harm among LGBT youth is clear.
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“Having this drawn out would have continued and enhanced the harm done to these kids, with all of the negative sentiments that have been directed towards the community and particularly people who are struggling with their sexuality,” he told AAP on Thursday.
Wallabies star Folau was sacked in April after he made a post on Instagram saying drunks, homosexuals, adulterers and others sinners were damned to hell, having previously being warned against such posts.
“It’s been really, really, really, really frustrating for us that this has been framed so effectively as a workplace rules versus religious freedom thing, when there’s so many people working in the trenches to try and save the lives of kids impacted by discrimination in sport,” Mr Denison says.
He also rubbished claims the mutual apology in the joint statement released by the code and Folau was a vindication of him.
“They didn’t apologise for terminating his contract and they didn’t reinstate him. That would be a vindication.”
“What they did was issue a statement that was pragmatic, and was necessary to end this, and I think most Australians would view the statements that way.”
Along with the overwhelming sense of relief felt by the community that the saga is over, Mr Denison says it is hopeful the case will set a precedent for other sports in stamping out homophobia.
“Rugby has really set the bar, and that’s the most heartening thing.”
“I have no doubt in my mind that it will have saved the lives of kids, in terms of long-term benefits. That it will send a really strong message to everyone involved in the sport that gay people are valued and that they’re worthy of being protected.”
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