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Australian Embassy Explores Issue of Gay Rights in Sports

By Kate Oczypok

The Embassy of Australia hosted a panel discussion on promoting equal rights in athletics to recognize the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia on May 17.

The event explored the theme of LGBTI inclusivity and activism in sports, two areas for which Australia is well known, given its long history of sporting fame and elite athletes, as well as its promotion of gay rights (it authorized same-sex marriage in 2017 and same-sex adoption is legal nationwide as well).

Issues addressed included homophobia both on and off the field, the gender pay gap, the passage of the Equality Act through the U.S. Congress and broadening LGBTI rights, among other topics.

Joanna Lohman
Soccer player Joanna Lohman — who spoke at a panel discussion at the Australian Embassy in May on promoting equal rights in athletics — was one of the few professional athletes to come out as gay, roughly 15 years ago.  Photo: By Rwetendorf - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

The discussion, moderated by Erika Moritsugu of the Anti-Defamation League, featured speakers such as Amazin LêThi, a Vietnamese activist and former competitive bodybuilder whose journey of homelessness and passion for sports led her to establish the Amazin LêThi Foundation. Also speaking was Joanna Lohman, a former American professional soccer player and sports diplomat.

As a professional athlete, Lohman has been open about her sexuality for about 15 years. “I’d say I’m one of the few truly ‘out’ athletes that uses their platform to advocate for social justice,” she told the Diplomatic Pouch. “A massive part of my career has been to advocate and represent for the LGBTQ community and other human rights endeavors close to my heart and bring me a lot of fulfillment.”

She added: “It’s valuable to have your voice heard and someone speaking up for the LGBTQ community and humanity in general.”

She said her extensive travels around the world and her androgynous appearance have given her a unique platform to advocate for social change.

“I have a unique perspective on what it’s like to travel the world as an androgynous gay woman,” Lohman said. “I really enjoy sharing my stories — they’re mostly about humanity and understanding that we’re a compilation of dimensions.”

Lohman said she wishes that everyone would stop labeling each other and “forcing each other into restrictive boxes.”

“It’s really a dangerous position to put ourselves in moving forward,” she said.

marriage equality rally in Australia
A rally is held for marriage equality in Melbourne, Australia, in August 2017. The country legalized same-sex marriage in December of that year.  Photo: By Paris Buttfield-Addison - https://www.flickr.com/photos/parisba/36414037060/, CC BY 2.5

A few questions Lohman was asked during the panel were what her experiences were like as a gay female athlete in the world, what we can do to create a truly inclusive environment in sports and what sports will look like in the future with trans athletes (in understanding not only gender identity but biology as well).

Lohman praised the Australian Embassy for hosting the event and honoring the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia, which is commemorated by over 132 countries around the world. That of course includes Australia, which was one of eight countries that drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Lohman said she plans on going back to the embassy at some point to stay in contact with her connections there.

“They really have the best intention for creating an inclusive working environment and world,” Lohman said. “As a State Department entity, they have a lot of hurdles as to what they can say and do.”

Lohman commended the embassy for “putting their best foot forward and being brave in terms of the conversations they’re willing to have on their premises.”

Kate Oczypok is a contributing writer for The Washington Diplomat.




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