Former rugby union player Dan Palmer has come out as gay, and has become the first Wallabies player the second men’s international to do so.
In a very heart-rendering column for the Sydney Morning Herald, the 32-year-old revealed that he cried himself to sleep countless times and has even contemplated suicide, while describing his mental health struggles and drug abuse as he fought to accept his sexuality.
“I was incredibly frustrated, angry and desperately sad. I despised myself and the life I was living. I was trapped in a false narrative and could see no way out,” he says. “Most nights, I cried myself to sleep and routinely numbed myself with a heavy cocktail of opioids.
He added: “I fantasised about disappearing, changing my name and starting my life all over again. It is not an exaggeration to say my own death felt preferable to anybody discovering I was gay.”
After years of emotional turmoil, Palmer stated that he partially decided to come out in response to “the ignorance of Israel Folau”.
Folau was dismissed from the New South Waratahs last year because of his persistent and harmful homophobic remarks, including claiming that “hell awaits” gay people and that that the bushfires in Australia were “God’s judgment” for the legalization of same-sex marriage.
Folau recently opened a $14 million wrongful dismissal lawsuit against Rugby Australia and eventually received a large settlement and an apology from his former employer. The dishonored player has now signed a new deal to play for the RFL Super League team Catalans Dragons. His derogatory comments led Palmer to reflect on how homophobia is internalized by young players, and led to his decision to write the column.
Palmer continues: “Although it wasn’t the primary impetus for me doing this, the longer the Folau saga dragged on, the more I felt a responsibility to say something. To me, what is more important than the damage he has caused rugby is the deep impact he has undoubtedly had on kids who looked up to him, and who struggle every day with understanding their sexuality. He will never see the impact he has had on these young people, but if he could, I doubt he could live with himself.”
He added that, thankfully, views like Folau’s “are the exception, not the rule” in rugby, and he was encouraged by numerous prominent players and officials who condemned his position.
He praised the exceptional bravery of Gareth Thomas, the first openly gay professional rugby union player, for setting an example that he could follow.
“Although I didn’t have the strength to follow his lead at the time, the descriptions he gave of his experience resonated with me and I was inspired by what he had done,” Palmer stated. “It is a slow grind, but we need to build a culture, both in and out of sport, where people are comfortable being themselves, whatever that may be.”
He concludes: “It sickens me to know that in the year 2020 there are still people torturing themselves the way I was, both in and out of sport – we need to be better. If this piece can prompt a conversation, make space for people to feel more comfortable being themselves, or can help someone better understand what a loved one may be going through, it will have been a success.”