LGBTQ Advocate Levels Complaint at Anti-Gay Rugby Star Israel Folau

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday December 2, 2019

An advocate for LGBTQ equality has accused former Australian rugby star Israel Folau of "vilification" of the non-heterosexual community and asked that the anti-gay athlete be required to apologize and make restitution in the form of a $100,000 charitable contribution, reports The Australian.

Garry Burns lodged the complaint in a Dec. 1 message he sent to the New South Wales discrimination board.

Folau torched his own career when he persisted in posting homophobic messages to social media in violation of the policies of both his team and Rugby Australia. After months of violations, Folau was eventually found to be in "high breach" of contract. He was fired last May, losing a $4 million deal as well as sponsorships. Folau has claimed that he is the victim in the case, and says that his freedom of religious expression is being squelched.

Burns pointed to the social media post that began the conflagration that consumed Folau's athletic career, as well as to more recent statements Folau made at his church when, in a sermon, he suggested that recent wildfires afflicting Australia are the direct result of God's displeasure with that country's legalization of marriage equality. Folau told his audience that Australia needed to "repent" and "take these laws and turn it back to what is right by God."

Folau's seizing on the natural disaster drew sharp critiques from leaders and ordinary citizens alike. Australian's Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, told the media that the former star's remarks were "appalling," reported the BBC, and went on to add, "He is a free citizen, he can say whatever he likes but that doesn't mean he can't have [some sensitivity with regard] to the grievance [and] offense this would have caused to the people whose homes have burnt down."

Burns argued that Folau, being a high-profile individual, carries more weight when he makes comments that vilify specific populations. Burns contended that Folau's remarks were "objectively capable of incitement of contempt and or hatred of homosexual persons on the ground of their homosexuality," The Australian reported.

As EDGE reported at the time, Folau sparked the problems when, sitting out games due to an injury, he offered a theological rumination in a social media post. Folau put up a cartoon illustrating the difference between a person's own life plan (a straight line without obstacles) and God's plan (a journey beset with an array of difficulties). When a fan posted a query as to God's plan for gays in the post's comments section, Folau fired off, "HELL.. Unless they repent of their sins and turn to God."

The post was soon deleted, but screencaps of his comment spread with lightning speed across the Internet, prompting both support and pushback.

With respect to Folau's more recent sermon referencing the wildfires, Burns went on to note that, "To suggest or imply that same-sex couples are causing these dreadful events to occur, that — I would allege — is vilification because it's singling out a particular group within the community."

Burns further expressed concern that LGBTQ youth in Australia might be driven closer to suicide by Folau's comments.

"The continual targeting of them by Mr. Folau in the media ... could lead those teens to suicide," The Australian quoted Burns as having written to the board.

Folau is due to appear today at a mediation over the termination of his contract by Ruby Australia. He is sticking to his claim that his religious rights are being trampled by policies that all professional rugby players are required to abide by in Australia. Folau is looking for a $14 million payout, reported Australia's Channel 7.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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