Daniel described his journey from being a somewhat chubby kid in South Australia, a place not known for its swimming heroes, to becoming a silver and bronze medallist in the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games in swimming.
Part of Daniel’s story revolved around how he found he lacked a degree of confidence and that something was holding him back from reaching his full potential. He said that at the time he wasn’t fully certain what it was. As the years went by he realised he was hiding his sexuality and this was having an impact on him.
Daniel Kowalski said he felt that if he had been comfortable with his sexuality he would have been able to stand up proud on the starting block, with a sense of confidence, and put in a far better effort. He believes it may have helped him win gold instead of silver or bronze.
This leads me to a Keshet Australia panel discussion this Sunday evening, August 5 here in Melbourne. The evening is entitled “The need for educating our Jewish community on GLBTI issues” and is moderated by John Searle. John is the immediate past president of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria and currently the chairman (and only member) of board of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission. From the advertising it appears he will be appearing on the night in a private capacity.
What’s especially exciting about Keshet bringing on board John Searle is that through his strong connections in the Jewish community and his involvement in the VEOHRC it places him in a unique position of being able to access and influence a significant number of organisations and people in the Jewish community about the need for a greater understanding of why discrimination against homosexuality is harmful.
On May 17 2012 the VEOHRC issued a media release in which it stated:
The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission unequivocally stands against homophobia in all its forms and today reaffirmed its support for International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO).
As the agency responsible for promoting and protecting human rights in Victoria, the Commission sees the harmful effects that discrimination and inequality have on people and the hurt and damage caused by prejudice, vilification and damaging stereotypes.
At its best, sport is a great way of keeping fit, healthy and socially connected. However, recent research highlights that sport can also be very unhealthy for gay, lesbian, bi‐sexual, transgender, intersex and queer (GLBTIQ) people, many of whom have experienced discrimination and abuse in sports club environments.
Come Out To Play (2010), a survey of 307 lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender Victorians, showed that 42 per cent of respondents had experienced verbal abuse because of their sexuality while playing sport.
It’s evident that the VEOHRC is taking discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity in sport seriously and is building bridges in the sporting community to help raise awareness of the harms of this discrimination.
The logical progression here, and perhaps the pink elephant on the sporting field, is to get the Jewish community’s sporting association, Maccabi Victoria, involved. That’s where John Searle fits in perfectly, because as a person who is passionate about human rights, equal opportunities, removing discrimination and “educating our Jewish community on GLBTI issues”, all he needs to do is reach out to the team at Maccabi and show them how the VEOHRC, through Fair Go, Sport!, is benefiting the Victorian sporting community.
Maccabi Victoria itself is well placed to take adopt this sort of education, as it lists amongst its values: tolerance, healthy & positive lifestyles, strong community connections, achievement in sport and participation by all. My earlier message about Daniel Kowalski exemplifies how a sporting community supportive of diverse sexual orientations would have assisted him in all of the same areas that Maccabi takes seriously.
I urge John Searle, together with Keshet Australia, to reach out to Maccabi Victoria and help them fly their rainbow colours for a stronger and healthier sporting community. Who knows, it may just help someone achieve their Olympic dreams.