An interview with Jason Ball about Mental Health and LGBTI+ Advocacy

Jason Ball is an Australian LGBTI and mental health advocate. He ran for the seat of Higgins for The Greens in last years federal election, seeing a significant rise in the percentage of Greens voters in the area. He was a National Finalist for the Young Australian of the Year  awards in 2017 and campaigns to welcome and increase diversity within the sporting scene. In 2012, Jason came out as a gay Aussie Rules Player and launched a campaign calling on the AFL to tackle homophobia. This drew much positive attention, catching the eye of the public and the media. This platform enabled him to start the Pride Cup to celebrate inclusion and diversity in sport. We got the chance to ask Jason a few questions about his work. 

Sporting clubs which often are central to many communities in Australia, have the opportunity to create positive change and a welcoming environment for all. Due to the prominence of sport in Australian society and culture, this can have significant flow on effects to the wider community, fostering an environment that is respectful and welcoming of diversity.

Sporting clubs are one of the most powerful settings to create change in the community when it comes to fostering diversity and inclusion. Sporting clubs are often the heart of a local community, especially in regional areas. Sport also has a huge influence on Australia’s cultural landscape, and thus when sporting organisations or clubs act on social issues, people often respond well to this leadership.

 Secondly, sporting environments have historically not been the most inclusive environments for various groups of people such as women, cultural and ethnical minorities, people with a disability or people of diverse sexualities or gender identities. Therefore, there is a much greater need for programs that foster diversity and inclusion within sporting clubs.

Jason’s work in creating the pride cup was hugely successful and led to the establishment of the AFL’s Pride Game. This has been a huge success and is already starting to move into other sports.

For the past two years, the Australian National Water Polo League has held a Pride Cup, driven by the Victorian Seals. On July 22 this year, the Melbourne Mustangs will host Australia’s first ever Pride Game within the sport of Ice Hockey. It is also important to note that other sporting codes have run programs to foster LGBTI inclusion in other sporting codes before the AFL, such as Hockey Victoria through its Fair Go Sport program. I would argue however that the momentum for change in other sporting codes has received its biggest boost by the AFL, as no other code has reach or cultural influence of Aussie Rules football, especially in Victoria. I’m very much looking forward to the AFL’s next Pride Game to be played in Sydney vs St Kilda on July 22.”

Jason also has taken a stance on Mental Health, especially how it effects people who are LGBTI+. He has represented Beyond Blue, worked with the Safe Schools coalition and regularly talks to schools, sporting clubs and professionals. Mental Illness and suicide are especially prevalent within the LGBTI + community and something really needs to be done to improve these outcomes, whether this is more prominent anti-discrimination campaigns, the creation of more ‘safe spaces’ and mental health services aimed at the LGBTI community as well as the education of mainstream health professionals to create welcoming services.

Both approaches are necessary, but one is more of a stepping stone and a short-term solution. At a time when mainstream health services are not particularly welcoming or inclusive of LGBTI people, there is a need for specialised services to ensure that LGBTI people feel comfortable to get the help they need. However, the long-term goal is to make all mainstream health services accessible for LGBTI people. Unfortunately, it takes time to audit, train and educate health workers in all mainstream health settings, but this is a crucial piece of work and is currently being driven in this state by Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria.”

Jason has created enormous positive change, creating an important conversation around homophobia in sport and the importance of improving mental health outcomes. Thank you very much Jason for answering our questions.

We asked Jason what message he would have for someone who is trying to figure out their own sexuality or gender identity. Here’s what he said:

“Often the biggest concern for young people who realise that they are anything other than straight is the fear that they won’t be accepted by their friends or family. Therefore, the most important message to offer is one of hope. I was accepted when I came out to my football teammates in regional Victoria, and this is a sign that the times really are changing, and if it can be OK in country football then there is hope that it can be OK anywhere. The simplest piece of advice I would give to any young person is to be proud of who you are. As Dr Seuss (apparently) once said, “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind!”

Any information on this blog is not a substitute for professional advice. It is written from personal experience and research only. If you are in crisis, go to your nearest emergency room, call lifeline on 13 11 14 or dial 000. If you live outside Australia, link to worldwide crisis numbers can be found in the sidebar.