Thorpe comes out but homophobia is alive and well


One of the most astounding outcomes of Ian Thorpe’s interview with Michael Parkinson on Sunday night was the self silencing that Thorpe thought was needed to protect his integrity, his sporting career, his relationship with friends, family and fans and his economic future.

Today we imagine discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in Australia is only in the past. Why would anyone need to hide their sexual orientation? The first Mardi Gras Parade in Sydney was in 1978, four years before Thorpe was born.

But Sunday’s interview demonstrated that homophobia is far from over in Australia. Thorpe stated 'I don’t want people to feel the same way I did. You can grow up, you can be comfortable and you can be gay.’ He added: 'I am telling the world that I am gay … and I hope this makes it easier for others now, and even if you’ve held it in for years, it feels easier to get it out.’

Only after years of painful denial, for a myriad of reasons to do with what others would think of him, or how they would ridicule him, was he able to reveal to Parkinson: 'I’m comfortable saying I’m a gay man.’ And, as I saw it, I suspect that there was a little discomfort in saying that.

I have the privilege of supporting young men and women coming out through a ministry to LGBTIQ Catholics and their families and friends at Newtown Catholic church in Sydney. It did not surprise me to hear Thorpe’s story.  I still hear it from 18 and 19 year olds. They are afraid to tell their parents. Some parents still blame their children for 'insisting on being gay’.  Some priests still seem to be advising young people coming out to seek medical and psychological help for their ‘problem’.

For many young men and women, it is a struggle to be comfortable with their sexual orientation, and there are still many reasons why they need to plan the timing of their coming out as gay. Family, social, career, religious and financial considerations are all very reasonable concerns, even in post Mardi Gras Australia.

Thorpe recalls the taunts of the school yard and the fears around being different.  He was a sporting icon at 15 years of age and had plenty on his plate dealing in the school yard with all that entails. He was certainly different. It is much better in schools these days, but it is still a difficult place to be different.

The Thorpe interview is a media event, but within this story of a man who is still young coming out, there are important lessons for Australian society. Brian Taylor, commenting before an AFL football match just last week, referred to a player he perceived as using an effeminate gesture as a ‘poofter’. It seems these kinds of comments are not reserved to boy banter on the school playground. Boys in particular are very vulnerable in their peer groups to such taunts if they in any way exhibit any traits presumed to be ‘gay’. 

It is still a challenge to be open about sexual orientation. LGBTIQ people still have legitimate fears about how they will be accepted amongst family, friends and various groups to which they belong.  People’s futures are affected socially and economically, and it sometimes affects their chosen career path.

Thorpe’s coming out reminds us that we need to be particularly aware of the pressures on young people who are becoming aware that their sexuality is other than heterosexual.  This group is still in danger of depression and suicide, either for this reason alone, or combined with other pressures young people feel.  There is still significant pressure on young LGBTIQ people from ignorance and lack of understanding in their peer, social, family and religious groups.  More compassion and gentle accompaniment is needed as we find ways to live the comment by Pope Francis on LGBTIQ people: ‘Who am I to judge?’  

Ian Thorpe should be proud of coming out and let’s hope it provides another step in the ongoing struggle against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in Australian society. 

Fr Peter MaherFr Peter Maher was recently awarded an Order of Australia medal for his community service promoting acceptance and diversity, including the mass he celebrates at his Newtown, Sydney, parish at 8 pm each Friday specifically welcoming LGBTIQ Catholics.

Topic tags: Peter Maher, Ian Thorpe, homosexuality, LGBTIQ, homophobia, sport, Pope Francis



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Existing comments

Congratulations Ian Thorpe in overcoming your misgivings. I wish you every happiness. Mary

Mary Maraz | 14 July 2014  

So proud of you Thorpie. Enjoy being who you are.

Pam | 14 July 2014  

" first words- self silencing " ISOLATION. ... ..? Of and/or by self or resulting from others' actions. So pertinent. .. As a summation of the starting of self... Self-destruction. .... Hence the requiring of ongoing contact and of contributing and of support. This, being of those who would approach as Victors and NOT ... victims. Of Identity AND abuse\S

Adam | 14 July 2014  

Well done Ian Thorpe. As I have prepared to come out,( quite a few years ago now ) I had to grapple with the reality that I might lose it all… every- thing I had known and loved and trusted and held dear. But I had to do it. I had to do it because I knew that there was something unshakeably true about my sexual orientation. And though I didn’t have the doc- trine or the theological precepts or the Biblical talking points nailed down yet, I also knew— knew in the core of my being—that that part of me was good, beloved, intentional, purposed. Coming out was a risk, an act of faith. In fact, it was possibly my first real act of faith. And the lesson I learned from that experience continues to inform my life and faith to this day. Anything worth doing is worth losing everything for...........

Paul Edwards | 14 July 2014  

To counter homophobia, the Church announces the good news: "The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition." (Catechism, 2358). May Ian Thorpe, who has proved an inspiration for so many, and all of us, fulfill God's will in our lives.

HH | 14 July 2014  

Thorpe's coming-out might keep any number of young gay males from suicide, but spare a thought for men who find children sexually attractive but not adult women. They have the same problems but no sympathy and to indulge their sexual need is irreversibly criminal. How many suicides are due to that?

Michael Grounds | 15 July 2014  

Sexual orientation, like the colour of your eyes, can't be chosen. It's what God gave you, & God doesn't give out rubbish. A kinder, more compassionate Church reflects more truly & clearly the ministry and love of Jesus. Congrats to Ian Thorpe in these days.

Fr Michael Taylor | 15 July 2014  

Courageous decision Ian. Excellent analysis Peter. I commend reading "A Life of Unlearning" by Anthony venn-brown - the story of one man's struggle and how he dealt with it.

Peter | 15 July 2014  

As can be expected, Thorpe's courageous acknowledgment of his sexual orientation has been met with a mixture of tabloid voyeurism and expressions of genuine admiration and respect. One of the clearly outstanding aspects of Thorpe's coming out is that his candour and ownership of self will offer support and hope for others of same sex attraction who have not made this public. One thing that certainly does not help is the inevitable but avoidable faint praise reference to the Catechism of the Catholic Church # 2358. The CCC has major premises which are, by the standards of sound biblical scholarship, 'objectively disordered.' The CCC begins with fundamentally flawed notions of human 'disorder' (original sin) which profoundly affects major portions of the rest of the document. The professional biblical competence of the authors of the CCC was questioned and challenged at a meeting of the Pontifical Biblical Commission chaired by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. A prominent Australian Jesuit member of the PBC asked why it had not been invited to participate in the writing and oversight of that fundamentally important section, The question was met with stone cold silence. So much for 'objectively disordered.'

David Timbs | 15 July 2014  

Thanks Peter Maher for your thoughts - this is an excellent analysis of why homophobia still exists, and its implications for young gay men and women - but while your sensitive and pastoral approach is admirable, something you don't address is that the dreadful official teachings of the Church (homosexuality=intrinsic evil etc etc) are still in place and held strongly by many in the Church - surely this contributes to maintaining the climate of homophobia - and any gay person reading them at some level will feel alienated and condemned by them - I find it hard to reconcile the pastoral approach with those teachings, and personally the only way I can cope with the disjunction is to opt out of the Church (this is just one amongst many reasons for opting out!!)

Peter | 15 July 2014  

Love thy neighbour and leave the judging to God. It is really quite simple.

Kate | 15 July 2014  

Much discussion on this subject assumes that the person has made internal resolution that they are exclusively gay. The traditional Catholic Church programs members, that to think and live along such lines is; twisted, perverted, sick, consumed in disorder and sin which requires banishment to the 10,000 degree fires of hades for 500years after death. Why is it surprising that a person internally may desperately try to reject, modify or deny their orientation, or that they may take years to get to resolution and share where they find themselves.? This is an extremely traumatic struggle for many and not well understood by the world.

Angus | 15 July 2014  

On many American catholic blogs. A homosexual must reman celibate as are single people which is according to the rules of the Catholic Church b so as I see it. You may be a homosexual but must not have sexual contact. . So I presume you tell that to all the catholic folk here as well and do they accept this. As well as heterosexual sexual singles. Just mentioning this as. On the blogs I have read they are very adamant. About this

Irena | 15 July 2014  

I know a young Catholic woman who met Ian Thorpe at a social function not long after the Sydney Olympics. "He's a fantastic bloke," she told me. "What a pity he's gay." I asked her how did she know he was gay. She replied: "A woman knows". There was no point in arguing with that so I asked her why she thought it was a pity. She replied: "What a great husband he'd make. He's going to be worth a fortune in endorsements. And I'm sure he'd make a great father." This young lady I'm sure meant well but despite haveing the perception to see that Ian manifested what to her were homosexual tendencies she had no idea that homosexuality lay at the core of person's being. It is more than the sum of homosexual traits, so perceived. I don't think she was aware of homosexuality being described in quaint Thomistic language as "intrinsically disordered". If the Church is going to speak on the human condition, on what makes a human person a person, then I think it needs to balance Aristotelian categories and Thomistic psychology with Existentialism - the real lived experience of the individual.

Uncle Pat | 15 July 2014  

Thanks Peter for your article on 'Thorpie' me he is a National Hero and champion athlete and fine young man..I hope his revelation brings him relief and freedom......Denis

Denis Allen | 15 July 2014  

The fact that there is an onus on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex sisters and brothers to 'come out' perhaps serves as a litmus test of how pervasive heterosexism and homophobia still is in our society. The question remain for us as Catholic Christians are: Is our church a place where the words and actions of the community honours the role, the dignity, the gifts, the stories, the teachings of LGBTI Catholics, or do we simply diminish their presence (existence) and their experiences?

Ben | 15 July 2014  

Ian Thorpe is to be applauded for his courage. So too Peter Maher for his welcoming LGBTIQ people at his parish. Unlike our Anglican and Protestant brothers and sisters in Australia and in many places around the world, in their parish mission statements, where it is most often made very clear that, regardless of gender, race, colour, sexual orientation, social status etc., all are welcome, we in Catholicism usually make no such statements. The most we will find is a general statement about being an ‘inclusive’ parish. This means nothing. Peter Maher points us to Pope Francis’s statement on LGBTIQ people: ‘Who am I to judge?’ The Pope’s statement is a step in the right direction, but placed against the still official teaching of the Church in the Catholic Catechism, as referenced by HH here, it is not enough. HH’s reference to paragraph #2538, which speaks of respect, compassion and sensitivity towards men and women of same sex attraction, is heartening, of course. But it is the previous paragraph #2357 which is unacceptable: “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered”. It is no longer enough to speak of respect, compassion, and sensitivity, but then go on to make such statements. This does nothing to remove homophobia from the Churches and secular society. I suggest that a complete revision of the Church’s teaching of human sexuality is way overdue in light of contemporary anthropological scholarship etc., and that statements such as this be expunged from Catechisms and elsewhere in Church teaching to acknowledge all persons of whatever sexuality as children of God with a legitimate ability to love before God. Arbp. Desmond Tutu puts it this way: “. I could not have fought against the discrimination of apartheid and not also fight against the discrimination that homosexuals endure, even in our churches and faith groups…Every human being is precious. We are all -- all of us -- part of God's family. We all must be allowed to love each other with honour. Yet all over the world, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are persecuted. We treat them as pariahs and push them outside our communities. We make them doubt that they too are children of God. This must be nearly the ultimate blasphemy”.

Christopher McElhinney | 15 July 2014  

I agree with HH that "They must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity" But for the rest of us, why are we being forced to consider that homosexual acts as morally acceptable? Homo sexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law.

Ron Cini | 15 July 2014  

It is clear from a number of comments that some have no idea whatsoever as to what Catholic teaching on sexual morality is. Firstly, the teachings are not based on sexual preference or orientation but on the purpose of fully developed human sexuality. The principles of human moral sexual behaviour apply to both homo- and hetero-sexual people. The great sadness is that homosexual people seem to live in an immature world where all in their being is directed towards sexual behaviour and they feel a need to declare that private self to everyone and sundry. How boring! How sad! Just as boring and sad as the bragging, womanising heterosexual male or the predatory, promiscuous heterosexual female. Crikey! I' m in trouble now! But then, in this world truth is the great casuality. Time to get over it boys and girls and live a life of rewarding virtue as you see it. There is nothing special about either homosexuality or heterosexuality and neither require nor deserve special privilege in society because of the way in which they derive sexual satisfaction. However, there is clearly a great discriminator between the two when the purpose of sexual intercourse is understood and accepted.Kate's comment has got it right.

john frawley | 15 July 2014  

Sexuality should be private. There is nothing wrong with being homosexual. That is like saying being male or female is wrong. It is the act that is offensive to some people just as heterosexual sex outside marriage is considered wrong by some. There is too much media attention on sexuality so no wonder young people are terrified of coming out! A young 15-16 year old needs friends rather than sexual partners. If someone indicates a sexual preference at that age then he/she will find friends are challenged as they do not want to be seen as gay. Why can't all people just be regarded as people! The fact that Ian's father was unaware of his sexual preferences infers to me that he has not had obvious partnerships. He has maintained discretion and integrity. Not very person needs sexual intimacy. Friendship is more important for many. The media emphasis on natural minorities such as homosexuality is taking necessary attention away from other socially constructed inequities such as gender and ethnocentric issues.

Helen | 15 July 2014  

I'm a great fan of Peter Maher, have been since the turn of the century for his work with Sydney's most marginal. I am not a fan of the church he supports as it clearly supports the damnation of the homosexual. It's official teaching. The contradiction concerns me greatly.

Michael Gravener | 15 July 2014  

I agree with the theme of this article. The real issue is the inability of the majority of Australian men to understand and accept a culture that is different to the conservative, anti-feminist, anti-homosexual, 'blokey' beer drinking sports club culture in the outer suburbs, regional cities and rural areas. Most Australian men are poorly educated and not well read in respect of classical fiction, moral philosophy and ethics and they are unable to have a mature discourse with women and homosexual men. Most of the Australian media people adhere to this culture and are sympathetic to stupid, poorly educated, inarticulate, illiterate, intellectually moronic people such as the retired AFL football buffoon Brian Taylor.

Mark Doyle | 15 July 2014  

Dear Peter, Thank you so much for all you do in the community with compassion ,love and fearlessness . You are a lesson to us all and a true Christian.

Faye Lawrence | 15 July 2014  

So refreshing to see this compassion & tolerance from someone with influence in the Church.

Sue Crock | 15 July 2014  

I empathise for those people who have a strong LBHT orientation. Ian is a champion with many supporters and is to be congratulated for the debate being generated for his disclosure. He said in one media interview about his desire to have a family. This statement creates a separate debate: what is the ultimate meaning of sexuality which of course is our children. Ian wants children from a woman. This is a heterosexual creation. The child is born of a mother and a father. The most fundamental identity is created by the mother and the father. The removal of the birth-rite is not an act of love and is having detrimental effects on the children. Of cause there will be someone out there who will do the Elton John famous, rich person self- absorbed thing to make money. It seems Ian has fallen into the same category.

dale Moore | 15 July 2014  

Thanks Peter Maher, and congratulations on the Award. I am so glad I have had the opportunity to work with you even in a minimal way, on bring acceptance to young men and women who are same-sex attracted. As you say, still some way to go, even within our own Catholic Community

Fr Roy O'Neill MSC | 15 July 2014  

Dale Moore, in the modern world medical science has made it is possible for homosexual men and lesbian women to have children without heterosexual sex. I have a cousin who is living in a permanent loving lesbian relationship and these two women have two beautiful children who were conceived by the IV process and the family live in an excellent environment of stability and happiness in a large regional city. I am also reminded of Paul Collins' comment on a Radio National program a few years back that according to opinion surveys, the majority of Australian Catholics accepted and included homosexual and lesbian relationships in their Catholic community. I think the Radio National program was a religious current affairs program presented by a bloke named Stephen Crittenden. It is also often bemusing that most of the people who oppose homosexual and lesbian relationships as well as the use of artificial contraception and abortion are conservative men who believe in a dominant masculine philosophy.

Mark Doyle | 16 July 2014  

May the good Lord keep you on the palm of his hand. He wants you to live a happy and fullfilled life. Try to help others who are still living in doubt

Emmanuel Sant | 16 July 2014  

Courage is a Catholic organization which accompanies and supports men and women with same sex attraction in their efforts to live a flourishing life in accordance with the official Catholic Church teachings on morals and chastity. The U.S. portal, through which Australian Courage support groups can be accessed is here: . Or, contact your local diocese.

HH | 17 July 2014  

Hey Eureka Street, why don't you solicit an article from a member of Courage? HH has done well to show that there is a genuine movement among some same-sex attracted people to live according to the dictates of the Church. If you as an e-journal really value diversity, why don't you give your readership the opportunity to hear from these members of the Catholic community?

Marg | 17 July 2014  

Peter, Ian Thorpe revealed some more amazing and wonderful things than his revelation about being a gay man. His relationship with the water was a model of acceptance, and for the way in which we can be one with all things. Ian Thorpe listens to the water and responds to it allowing the water to be water and finding his authentic place in it. Now this is a worthy awareness on which to base one's whole life. Thank you Ian Thorpe for sharing this with us.

Marlene Marburg | 18 July 2014  

In my mid-30s, I volunteered for a research project seeking women not on the pill. The researcher asked me to send them MORE. I said, oh, just go into Catholic groups and you will find all these women. Researcher: think you are over-estimating the number of Catholic women who stay OFF the pill. My point is, RC women/families clearly CHOOSE which of the Church teachings to follow, otherwise the RC population in developed countries would be similar to the rate of the developing world. Pope Francis's comment about LGBT people may be the first tentative step in the change in the views of RCatholics; the official teachings are another matter entirely. The Anglican Church has similar difficulties; look up the book 'faithfulness in fellowship' Scripture is interpreted differently by different sections of the Anglican Communion; the RC Church has the conservative church teaching/tradition to contend with. The findings of science and social science must be factored into Church teachings. Science is from the human brain, which is - according to Church teaching - a creation of God. Most medical & psychical bodies have a statement on human sexuality and these should be considered by the church(es).

sapere_aude | 18 July 2014  

thank you for your article. I hear a lot of pain in these comments. I struggled with my Catholic belief and my lesbian self in my 20s and 30s. In my 40s thanks to a loving local church community I came to the place where I am an out lesbian in a 30 year relationship who goes to mass and take part in the life of my small parish. I am now in my 60s the pope and I disagree but I believe god knows my heart. I pray that the young gays who see me take heart from the fact that it is possible to take strength from the sacraments without retreating to the closet.

Liz Munro | 18 July 2014  

Thanks Peter for your very understanding article on Ian Thorpe, and for the example of your acceptable mission in helping young men and women "come out" as we say. God gave Ian and others many gifts. It took Ian years of struggle to admit to himself, and now to the world, who God had made him. May he be very blessed within himself as he thinks about what he has done, and may his courageous example help others who struggle to find that acceptance in their own lives.

Fr Tyrone Deere | 18 July 2014  

Fr Tyrone Deere describes the many "gifts that God gives ian and others". What of the many sources of suffering that people acquire/inherit through no fault of their own. Psychopathic tendencies, handicaps (social and physical), the many forms of personal and potential social suffering that people carry throughout their lives. When does a gift become an evil and did God also distribute these gifts? Humans need to take responsibility and recognize the power of individuals and communities to bestow gifts and try and reverse evils.

Pete | 18 July 2014  

As usual, I see the same people commenting here, obsessed with the fact that other people might be having sex - as if in some voyeuristic way - without any mention of of whatsover. That's not what this discussion is about and it is YOU who need healing an forgiveness. The organisation "Courage" mentioned here, from knowing a former member, teaches that homosexuality is a result of being abused - and that they are broken. Well, aren't we all broken in some way? But someone's sexuality cannot be broken, if it's a gift from God, it's deeply personal and spiritual, and physical, and erotic and basically everything - so please, unless you have something positive and uplifting to say - keep out of it!

AURELIUS | 19 July 2014  

Liz, your disagreement on this matter, no doubt sincere, is not just with this Pope, but with the clear and constant teaching of the Church founded by Christ across two thousand years. You face a huge challenge, and are in my prayers.

HH | 21 July 2014  

From Liz's comment, I can't see where she's claiming to disagree with the pope or the church, or Christ for that matter. The pope said: "If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge? The problem is not having this orientation, it is lobbying. That's the most serious problem."

AURELIUS | 21 July 2014  

#Father Maher, there is psychological literature on people experiencing acute and fulminating anxiety and self loathing at sudden awareness of homoerotic urges[regardless of gay friendly attitudes or ambiance,who can need psychological and medical help to avoid tragedy[suicide]. #Such oft have hetero orientation in the main,though latent gayness can be suddenly elicited accidentally [through myriad circs] . #Others who practice gay sex need orthodox but sensitive spiritual direction and confession, no doubt a key platform of your Newtown apostolate among others. #Orthodox catholic teaching on homosexuality is not homophobic but pertains to the homophile eternal salvation of gays, while acknowledging the sinlessness of gay urges and orientation as such.

Father John George | 22 July 2014  

A wise and insightful article, Peter. From what I understand the major problem many gay and lesbian people have is accepting themselves. Low self-esteem and self-hatred are a result. I think one of the factors the bush theologians who "critiqued" your article singularly failed to realise is that a priest's pastoral care duties do not start and finish in the confessional nor is he confined to prescriptive counselling of the "You must not do that" variety. As several commentators have said, sexuality and genital sex are not the same thing. Obviously, for practicing Catholics who are gay or lesbian, the question of genital sex may very well arise. How would they deal with this? Sadly, many people, hetero or otherwise, reach adulthood without much emotional maturity and sometimes have real emotional scars which need to be healed. This is the underlying problem. I think one of the things you have to attempt to do - as so many clerics, teachers, GPs et sim have as well - is to be aware that some of the people you see may need help from a psychologist or psychiatrist. Most clerics, like yourself, would be well aware of that and would act accordingly. I think you are involved in a ministry of real worth which is vitally needed. I am surprised at the ignorance and naivete of some of your critics.

Edward Fido | 22 July 2014  

Obvioulsy, if you perceive and treat sexuality/homosexuality as an illness akin to cancer - you are bound to come up with terms like "latent gayness" etc, Fr George. Even the obsession with trying to prove there's no choice in our orientation leads to no other conclusion that homosexual people have been born with a disability and are victims of genetics akin to autism. What if we just conclude that it's a choice? If it's a good thing, why do we fear that possibility?

AURELIUS | 22 July 2014  

Mark Doyle you have lost the plot. I repeat my observation children have their authentic identity in a male and female union. Technology does make it possible to remove the child's right. But what would you care of the children and the imlications or the teaching authority of the Church. Why don't you go and join or create a new Protestant Church. You can do what you like there. As for the issues of male dominant issues regarding abortion and the like, it is amazing how it women who are leading on these issues and the men come to support them against the heterophobia created by the gay movement. Dale Moore

Dale Moore | 23 July 2014  

Yes Dale Moore, you are right - but just insert "most" in front of : "children have their authentic identity in a male and female union." It's nothing to do with technology or rights or morals or ethics - it's just pure and plain reality that some people are gay

AURELIUS | 24 July 2014  

The sin of heterosexism and homophobia is truly alive, well and perhaps 'thriving' here on the Comments Forum, so sad that in these contemporary and enlightened times, people still hold such archaic and uneducated cruel views of their non-heterosexual sisters and brothers; and the Author was just saying....

Ben | 11 August 2014  

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