Ian Thorpe: a sporting icon becomes a gay role model

STRUGGLE: Swimming star Ian Thorpe has revealed he is gay.

STRUGGLE: Swimming star Ian Thorpe has revealed he is gay.

LIKE swimming star Ian Thorpe, Mark Bayliss thought long and hard about coming out.

“I just wasn’t sure what sort of reception I’d get from my family and friends,” Mr Bayliss said.

“But in the end I got more support than what I thought I would.”

Mr Bayliss, who is one of the co-ordinators of Western Area Gay and Lesbian Support (WAGALS), said coming out could be a difficult process for many gay people and it appeared Thorpe struggled with revealing his sexuality during his televised interview with Michael Parkinson on Sunday night.

“I think he was quite uncomfortable with some of the questions he was asked ... it wouldn’t have been easy for him,” he said.

“He was obviously concerned about how he’d be perceived by the public because he thought the public wanted him to be the golden boy for Australia.”

Mr Bayliss said he hoped Thorpe would now not only be seen as a sporting icon, but also a gay role model.

“I think if someone’s up to the task of being a good role model then they should go for it,” he said.

“I hope that there are people who think if Ian came out, then why can’t I?”

Mr Bayliss acknowledged that it was sometimes more difficult to reveal your homosexuality in rural and regional areas such as Orange.

“There’s still a little bit of a stigma about it,” he said.

GALLERY: AUSTRALIA'S GAY SPORTING STARS

Mr Bayliss said he hoped Thorpe’s coming out would remind people of Australia’s diversity.

Representative hockey player Paula Beattie, who is also gay, said while Thorpe’s revelations were “a big deal for him personally” they were not a big deal for the wider community.

“It’s his business,” she said.

However, Ms Beattie said she hoped anyone who watched Thorpe’s interview would now have a greater understanding of how hard it could be to come out.

“I feel for him and the journey he has had to travel to get to this place, it cannot have been easy,” Mr Beattie said.

Ms Beattie said Australians could have made it easier for Thorpe “by showing as a nation we support the human rights of all people regardless of race religion or sexual preference”.

“We cry each time a young person takes their life through suicide, simply because they are gay, yet at times fail to look at the part we may play in that as a nation by not being openly supportive or by sending negative messages that being gay is somehow wrong,” she said.

“By not supporting equal rights for same-sex marriage we again send a negative message that being gay is wrong.”

Legalising same-sex marriage could soon be back on the political agenda with Liberal Democratic senator David Leyonhjelm confirming yesterday he will move a marriage equality bill as soon as the Coalition agrees to a conscience vote.

tracey.prisk@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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