Patience and respect in AFL talks key to progress for trans footballers Michelle Sheppard

When working with the AFL, it is important to understand what you’re dealing with. There is 122 years of culture in a country whose identity has been shaped by organised sport, binary male-female environments with a lot of uncertainty and very little education on LGBTIQ+ lived experiences.

When I migrated to Australia 16 years ago I remember reading an article that stated “organised sport has killed organised religion in Australia”. I learned early on that you must find a team to barrack for, and that business deals could be made over a pint and a pie.

This was fine when I was presenting as a middle class, Caucasian, heterosexual, married, masculine-presenting father of two daughters. When I transitioned five years ago, it wasn’t something I wanted to think about. I felt ashamed.

In 2013 I learned quickly that the transgender community wanted to remain hidden and over the course of the past five years I lost many things – my career and relationships with friends and family.

When it comes to transgender issues, I am not a doctor. I speak of my own lived experiences and through the many other transgender people I have met and interviewed over the years on radio and television. The conversation is complicated for everyone.

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Last week, I was asked to be a facilitator for a discussion around “transgender and gender diverse” sports inclusion policy at the AFL. Opportunities to come to the “big table” for discussions are such a rarity, it was an honour to have the chance to represent my community in this way.

We brought together some of the best representatives from around Australia who understand the weight of the situation with a focus on the long game for our community.

The policy presented was an early draft and needs much work still but the feedback we gave was well received by the AFL’s representatives. It was not easy, there was some hurt in the room, but we were allowed to give our true thoughts and concerns.

It was a chance to show respect for both sides and start a dialogue, which has been facilitated over the past year by the openness by AFL clubs to make positive change happen. It was a moment I am proud of.

I am often asked, “How can I be an ally?” My first response is to ask “What platform can you offer to allow discriminated voices to speak?” Tanya Hosch, a woman of colour and general manager at the AFL, did just that. She said she couldn’t understand what we are going through but could empathise with the discrimination and struggle by sharing her story with us and why she wanted to make sure this meeting happened for us.

The importance of this policy cannot be underestimated and it will be referenced going forward, even by other sporting groups.

Even though the public is aware of the draft, its contents remain confidential. But what I can say is there is a positive beginning and yes, the path forward is still long, but with the right allies in the right places, patience by both parties to listen instead of over talking each other, as well as mutual respect of each point of view, we can make more progress together than with aggression and finger pointing.



Orignal Post:

Published by mishsheppard

Michelle's powerful combination of self and community shines through the platform of radio which has helped raised the public profile and national dialogue of transgender, gender diverse and intersex issues on a national scale. Surprisingly nothing is off limits with Michelle who connects with her audience brilliantly; obviously through her humor and unapologetic blunt honesty. She is often labelled as an inspiring advocate and role model for youth and adults alike and hers is a powerful story to tell. We know that when a woman has the support of her community, especially her sisters, she is unstoppable. Michelle’s wider support from the women around her, LGBTI+ or ally alike, has helped develop her own unstoppable resilience and body positive confidence that she inspires others with. Now a sought-after public speaker Michelle is admired for her bold public representation of the Transgender community as works to break through the barriers of unconscious bias, cultural and structural issues to ensure equality of opportunity for all Australian work spaces. Winner of the ANZ Excellence in Business Award, ‘LGBTI Jobs’ a relatively new project, they pair LGBTI graduates and jobseekers to companies that embrace inclusion initiatives. “We’ve started a business that helps anybody who’s in the LGBTI Community. We go to companies and see what they are you doing. This isn’t just for me, this is for the entire community and we are going to make a massive change.” Michelle was recently celebrated alongside some truly amazing individuals from our community as part of the ‘The LOTL Power List 2016’ as someone who does everything in their power to make life that little bit better for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities: sometimes with blood, sweat and tears; and sometimes just by being themselves. Michelle is also a finalist for ‘MTV – LGBTI Broadcaster and Presenter’ in the Australian LGBTI Awards 2017. Awards Globe Awards 2016 - ANZ Excellence in Business Award The LOTL Power List 2016 (28/40) Finalist for ‘MTV – LGBTI Broadcaster and Presenter’ in the Australian LGBTI Awards 2017

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