Swimmer Daniel Kowalski, Pride Cup co-founder Jason Ball, transgender athlete Hannah Mouncey and Proud 2 Play chief executive James Lolicato spoke at the Proud To Be Community Forum. Photograph Kate Withers
The overarching message at last week's inaugural Proud To Be Community Forum in Traralgon was that "nobody should have to fight to join in" when it comes to sport.
Run by Latrobe Regional Hospital, the forum was designed to educate community members about the importance of making the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, intersex and questioning communities welcome at a club level.
Price Cup co-founder Jason Ball headed a star-studded guest speaking panel which included Olympic swimming champion Daniel Kowalski, transgender athlete Hannah Mouncey and Proud 2 Play chief executive James Lolicato.
Lolicato delivered a presentation to the 100-strong contingent of community members in attendance and labelled the initiative a huge step.
"Things like this forum mean so much to the LGBTIQ community, especially after the year we've had," he said.
Olympic medallist Daniel Kowalski spoke of the internal turmoil he experienced as an athlete trying "desperately" to hide his sexual identity.
"For me, [coming out] was far more terrifying than anything I experienced in my swimming career," he said.
"Still to this day, I care what people think about me."
Pride Cup co-founder Jason Ball said his experience as part of a local sporting club was one that eventually sparked his coming out and it was a discussion with a teammate at the Yarra Glen Football Club in his early 20s that spawned the Pride Cup.
"My teammates were just so understanding and accepting," Ball said.
"It was one of them that came up with the idea to have this Pride Cup game and made me feel like I could be myself."
Transgender athlete Hannah Mouncey, who admitted the struggle of dealing with gender identity and the judgment of others had taken its toll on her, welcomed the forum.
"Sport ... is the most accepting environment I have found," she said.
"If you might not fit in, don't let that stop you. This sort of thing is so incredibly important to the LGBTIQ community and Gippsland is leading the way on that."
Speaking ahead of the second annual Gippsland Pride Cup between Traralgon Tyers United and Glengarry, North Gippsland Football Netball League president David Kyle put the hard word on local clubs and organisations to embrace diversity and inclusion of the LGBTIQ communities.
"We'd like to be able to look back in a few years time and say 'we got the ball rolling'," Kyle said.
"There's no doubt we've started to break down some barriers but we still have a way to go. As administrators, we need to stand up ... and fight the fight because it's the right thing to do."
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