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Saturday 08 April 2017

Apology or not, the damage has been done

Posted in: Our Communities
By Aatir Zaidi - 3rd April 2017

All Black Lima Sopoaga is under fire for his homophobic comment in which he called team mates “gayyyyyy” because they are showing affection in an Instagram post. Although he was quick to apologise, the damage had been done.

Lima Sopoaga's reaction to this photo has landed him in hot water.
I saw the comments both on the GayNZ article on Facebook and on the original Instagram post. Most people reacted that it is not a big deal, some were offended and some were right out homophobic. Sure, everyone is entitled to their opinion but I will tell you why Sopoaga’s comment is wrong and why the caption on the Instagram post itself affects the wider gay community.

As a child I was different. When I was in high school in India boys did not include me in their group. Girls thought I shouldn’t be in their group because I was a ‘boy’. I had little interest in sports, girls or even staying up late at night and watching some boring nail-biting cricket match. Boys would rave about how exciting the match was and I would just stay quiet. I was dumb in Mathematics, Physics or Chemistry but I was outstanding in Psychology at school. I still remember during my bus ride home, these straight ‘jocks’ in the bus would challenge each other to do challenges - like free stand or some weird gymnastic trick. They wouldn’t include me and would make unspoken eye contact, often someone would say, “He’s too gay”.

It was then that this word started to become my identity, much to my dislike. I say dislike because I was getting defined by my behaviour and for being different. I remember another incident when we were out on the field and starting to play soccer. Captains of each team were choosing their teammates. I was chosen last, it almost made me feel that I was not capable enough and I was an extra. I was in the closet, I maintained my modesty, never retaliated or said anything.

Days went by and I was completely excluded from social groups in the school. My performance in school deteriorated drastically. Often these cool jocks will come to me and bully me. They would ask me out loud if I was gay. As if being gay was the most terrible thing to happen. I was made fun of my flamboyancy. Those comments, the word gay was like a swear word to me. It almost felt like a curse. I would cry at home, never told my mum about it or shared it with anyone.

Now, in 2017, I see people doing it all over again. Yes the LGBTQI+ communities have achieved a lot over the years but there are new issues to face and one of them is casual homophobia. To some privileged people who have never experienced homophobia or bullying, casual homophobia may appear as nothing. That is exactly what is the case with Sopoaga. The word gay is used by straight men as a way of insult. They use it to out someone or to refer to something that is not masculine enough and this needs to change. Players like Sopoaga have pretty good reach and fan following. His Instagram has 74.8k followers. We sometimes forget All Blacks are idols to many children and adults. They are looked upon as New Zealand Gods. I support them in each and every game. People follow their style, brands they endorse and even things they believe in.

On the other hand, look at the caption on the Instagram post by Malakai; “These two aren’t well”. I want to ask both Sopoaga and Malakai: what were your intentions when you were writing these comments? Are they not "well" because they are kissing the cheek of a fellow team-mate? Or you Sopoaga, is it ok to call people out and make fun of being “gay”?

Some may argue that I am a Social Justice Warrior or a snowflake. Call me whatever. You will be surprised to know that Out On The Field Study 2016 report 80% of the participants in the study claimed they had experienced or witnessed homophobia. 84% of gay men and 82% of lesbians had received verbal slurs related to homophobia. If this does not concern you then I don’t know what will and this needs to change. I cannot do anything about my past, but I can certainly tell you how devastating it is psychologically to be bullied and called gay or faggot. For me, it was almost the end of my identity. I was being defined only because of my sexual orientation and my creative personality was ignored. I almost wanted to die but I still survived to write this.

Aatir Zaidi - 3rd April 2017

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