lgbt

The rainbow flag took over Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium Saturday night in a powerful statement of acceptance and love.

The Australian Football League (AFL) held its first-ever Pride Game to celebrate the LGBT community during a match between St Kilda and the Sydney Swans. Although the Swans ultimately triumphed, beating the Saints with a 70-point win, the importance of the game to fans of all stripes could not be diminished.

The Pride Game initiative was spearheaded by Victorian player Jason Ball, the code’s first openly gay male player, in an effort to promote understanding in the AFL and among its fans.

“I came to understand a lot of the homophobic language and behaviour wasn’t coming from a place of hatred towards me or gay people, but rather just ignorance and not knowing the impact on me,” Ball said in a statement.

While no current top-level player is openly gay, Ball told the ABC he believed the event would be “life changing.”

“Growing up, the footy club was the one place I thought I’d never be accepted. Homophobic language was routinely used on the field and it left me scared to be myself,” he said. “Struggling in silence with my identity caused me so much heartache and pushed me to a very dark place.”

Rainbows lined the field Saturday, while umpires waved rainbow flags when points were scored. Even the TV commentators wore rainbow scarves.

For one night at least, everyone was welcome.

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