With the 2016 Summer Olympics underway, all eyes are on Rio de Janeiro. Yet, some--like gay athlete and Australian bobsleigh team member, Simon Dunn--have their sights set on Pyeongchang, South Korea, host of the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Training hard and fueling his Olympic dreams, Dunn is also an activist for inclusion in sports. He grew up playing rugby in Australia, but abandoned sports for six years. "Society tends to tell you that you can't, that gay men are lesser, or not as masculine as heterosexual men," says Dunn. To combat this stigma, Dunn leverages his platform to eradicate negative stereotypes while being a role model for LGBTQ youth who play sports. "If I can prevent even one kid from giving up sports, it's a win in itself."
Playing sports increases confidence while nourishing the mind and body. "During my gap in playing sport, I struggled with my sexuality," says Dunn. "I couldn't find my place in a community that I was forcing myself to be a part of." However, when Dunn joined the Sydney Convicts Rugby Club, he found a like-minded community. "Getting back into that community and finding my place in society as a gay man, I could happily say for the first time in my life that I was proud of being a gay man. Prior to finding my place, I still feel like I had some internalized homophobia. Being gay, in my mind, prevented me from doing what I love, and that is sports."
Dunn is also appreciative of his allies' support in sports. "The sporting world is traditionally hyper-masculine. To have people who excel in sports come out and support us shows the rest of the community that we're not bad."
Dunn rallies against homophobia everywhere. "I like to use my platform of being on the Australian bobsleigh team to educate the broader community that we are just like everyone else." On social media, you'll find Dunn advocating for marriage equality in Australia. "In my own country of Australia we still don't have same-sex marriage. So, it shows how far we have to go as people to change the perceptions of the rest of the community."
He adds, "The Christian party wants to take away laws against discriminatory speech for the debates so they can say what they like." This would create a culture that approved of hate. "Imagine being a 16-year-old kid, you're struggling with your sexuality, and then all over the media are people telling you that you that you're sick, you're dirty, or you're going to hell."
This is the world Dunn hopes to prevent by taking a stand for gay rights and inclusion both inside and outside of sports.
But when it comes to sports, Dunn encourages anyone to play, though rugby is his obvious favorite. "Gay rugby itself is amazing." To get into the sport, he suggests watching games and familiarizing one's self with the rules. "There's a lot of rules to rugby, and I still don't know them all. As long as you know the basics, you're good."
For more about Simon Dunn, follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.