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Scientist claims homophobic Israel Folau’s settlement could actually be good for at-risk LGBT children

Emma Powys Maurice December 6, 2019
Israel Folau speaks to media following aconciliation meeting with Rugby Australia at Fair Work Commission on June 28, 2019 in Sydney, Australia.

Israel Folau speaks to media following a conciliation meeting with Rugby Australia at Fair Work Commission on June 28, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Mark Metcalfe/Getty)

A leading behavioural scientist has suggested that Rugby Australia’s settlement with disgraced homophobe Israel Folau could actually be a victory for LGBT+ youths and children.

Folau was sacked in April after warning gay people on social media that “hell awaits” them. He has since doubled down on his anti-LGBT beliefs, claiming that bushfires devastating Australia are “God’s judgment” for same-sex marriage.

On Wednesday he reached an undisclosed settlement with Rugby Australia and the New South Wales Waratahs, bringing to an end his $14 million wrongful dismissal lawsuit. Rugby Australia were obliged to publicly apologise to Folau for “harm caused” to his career.

Many were appalled that Folau was seemingly vindicated for his homophobic views, but Monash University researcher Erik Denison believes the outcome may have been a blessing in disguise for LGBT+ people.

He told AAP that Rugby Australia’s decision to resolve the matter before trial was necessary to “stop the misinformed armchair commentary from people who clearly don’t understand that children’s lives are at stake”.

Denison has conducted nearly 20 studies in 42 different sports on the impacts of homophobic language on children, proving a clear link between homophobic language and the high rates of suicide and self-harm among LGBT+ youth.

He says there is no doubt in his mind that Rugby Australia’s decision to settle “will have saved the lives of kids, in terms of long-term benefits”.

Israel Folau departs his conciliation meeting with Rugby Australia at Fair Work Commission on June 28, 2019 in Sydney.
Israel Folau departs his conciliation meeting with Rugby Australia at Fair Work Commission on June 28, 2019 in Sydney. (Mark Metcalfe/Getty)

“Having this drawn out would have continued and enhanced the harm done to these kids, with all of the negative sentiments that have been directed towards the community and particularly people who are struggling with their sexuality,” he explained.

“It’s been really, really, really, really frustrating for us that this has been framed so effectively as a workplace rules versus religious freedom thing, when there’s so many people working in the trenches to try and save the lives of kids impacted by discrimination in sport.”

Denison added that although it may look as though Folau had landed on his feet, the settlement was not a complete victory for him.

“They didn’t apologise for terminating his contract and they didn’t reinstate him. That would be a vindication,” he said. “What they did was issue a statement that was pragmatic, and was necessary to end this, and I think most Australians would view the statements that way.”

More: Australia, homophobia in sport, israel folau, Lawsuits, New South Wales Waratahs, Rugby Australia, self-harm, suicide, Wallabies

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