Gay rugby pro Dan Palmer almost overdosed as he desperately tried to keep his sexuality a secret
Dan Palmer, the first professional pro rugby in Australia to come out as gay, said it was “no exaggeration” that he considered suicide while he was in the closet.
In an interview with The Sunday Project, journalist Lisa Wilkinson spoke with the former Wallaby about his tortured journey to coming out publicly, wrestling between telling his truth and keeping his sexuality a secret from his teammates.
“My own death felt preferable to anybody discovering I was gay,” he said last month in a powerful first-person piece for the Sydney Morning Herald.
“It’s the reality,” the Australia national rugby union team member reflected to Wilkinson.
“I mean, there’s nothing, there’s no exaggeration there. That’s the reality and that was the reality for quite a long time.”
Israel Folau’s ‘direct attack’ on queer people prompted Dan Palmer to come out publicly.
Palmer described how securing his dream gig – a chance to play in the Wallabies in 2012 – only amped up the torment he felt inside himself. This sense of “deep unhappiness”, he said, continued when he went onto play in France for FC Grenoble for the 2013-14 season.
Yet, unable to speak French and struggling with a foot injury that both led him to dramatically drop weight and later forced his retirement, the front-rower started self-medicating and almost overdosed on prescription drugs.
The day after, he flew to London, England, to meet with his agent. Sliding him a note on his mobile phone that “described everything”.
“And I, after crying for I don’t know how long, across the table in packed restaurant I just passed him the note and that was that,” he said.
After decades of anguish, his agent wholly accepted Palmer – a huge relief, he said.
“It was essentially [that] nothing has changed,” Palmer reflected. “It’s all as it should be and this, I guess this amazing thing happens when you’ve finally done that.
“And that is, the next day the sun rises and nothing’s changed and the world goes on and nobody cares.”
Palmer’s decision to come out this year was sparked, in part he said, by Israel Folau – the firebrand former Wallaby who ignited fury for claiming that “hell awaits” queer people.
“Young people look up to people like Israel,” Palmer said, “and when your idol is saying things that, whether he knows it or not, are a direct attack on you […] that can have a dramatic effect.
“I don’t think he was being malicious in the sense that he was trying to hurt people. But the consequences are just as bad.”
Suicide is preventable. Readers who are affected by the issues raised in this story are encouraged to contact Samaritans.
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In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14.
Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.