Former National Rugby League (NRL) player Casey Conway is speaking publicly for the first time about the “double life” he lived before he publicly came out as gay.
The Aussie Aboriginal athlete spoke to Special Broadcasting Service about how he managed to explore his sexual identity in Sydney’s gay scene while keeping his relationships private from his teammates.
Conway first came out to the NRL’s National Youth Competition/Holden Cup in 2003, he admitted to club officials that he was gay.
“I was up-and-coming, so they were cautious about going about it the right way,” he explained.
“They wanted to make sure I was looking after myself and accessing the support that I needed, and they were concerned about the club’s image.”
Conway says that despite discussing his sexuality with club management, he hesitated to reveal he was gay to his teammates as he struggled to reconcile his rural upbringing with his new life in Sydney.
“I was out-and-about on the [gay] scene and meeting people. I was doing that undercover and it finally came to a point where I had to start accepting it. I wanted more than what I was having,” he said.
Conway says he encountered many forms of ignorance from within the gay community.
“There was a lot of casual racism. People would say things like, ‘You’re hot for an Aboriginal guy’ or ‘I’ve never been with a black guy’. I’d think, ‘You know that’s not a compliment?’.”
When Anthony Mundine famously claimed that homosexuality and Aboriginal culture didn’t mix, following an episode of the ABC’s Redfern Now program in 2013, Conway was aghast at the thought of another Aboriginal former NRL player using his platform to preach intolerance.
“I don’t think [his comments] were reflective of the Aboriginal community at all. For someone like him in a position of influence in the Aboriginal community, it was really disappointing,” he said.
Now a full-time youth development coordinator for a small non-for-profit on Queensland’s Gold Coast, Conway said he sees the direct impact of those type of comments on young people coming to terms with their sexuality.
“There are young people out there hearing comments like that and they’re questioning themselves. I know what it was like to be in the country and think, ‘Oh shit, I think I’m gay’. At that time there wasn’t really a big push in the media for equality,” he said.
“I’ve worked with kids who are homeless because they’ve been kicked out of home when they came out [as gay]. They’re suffering not only because they don’t have a home, but because of their mental health and a raft of other issues.”
Conway said he’s seen a change in the attitudes of professional athletes as more have revealed they’re gay themselves.
“There’s not too many who have come forward, but I definitely think there’s been a change. There are lots of different sporting identities, clubs and codes that are saying, ‘we’re for equality’. I think that’s really great. It’s really positive.”