Australia’s first professional soccer player to come out as non-binary hopes to pave the way for other gender diverse athletes.

It is not the first time Adelaide United goalkeeper Grace Wilson has come out as queer — but it did not make it any less daunting.

“By coming out [as non-binary] it’s just being able to be honest with everyone around me,” they said.

“For the last year and a bit, I haven’t been, and it’s really difficult to navigate when you’re constantly being misgendered.

“Growing up, I faced some homophobia within teams because I was one of the first openly-queer people on my teams.”

As the first Australian professional soccer player to come out as non-binary, 18-year-old Wilson understands the difference role models can make.

“There aren’t that many openly non-binary players in professional sport,” they said.

“It’s difficult to forge your own path in that sense, but I’ve been so well supported.

“It’s really important to have people out there that are open and honest about their experiences, because I just learnt so much.”

Wilson has been named in the Young Matildas squad.(ABC News: Brant Cumming)

In February, the young goalie was named in the Young Matildas squad and has spent time gearing up for the Asian Cup in Uzbekistan this month.

The news came as they were making the difficult decision to come out about their gender identity to their friends, family, and teammates.

“They all had such a wonderful reaction, I got hugs and people telling me how proud of me they were,” they said.

“I felt weightless after, I felt so happy, so phenomenal, really euphoric.

“It’s this kind of feeling that I want to feel all the time – I want to feel accepted.”

Studies reveal challenges faced in sports

A 2019 Flinders University study found that almost 40 per cent of respondents who participated in sports had “felt unsafe or vulnerable in a sporting environment as a result of their gender identification or sexuality”.

The study also found when athletes had spent some time with clubs, a majority were found to be welcoming.

It is one of several Australian studies in the past decade looking at the challenges faced by LGBTQI sportspeople.

Adelaide United midfielder Josh Cavallo made global headlines in 2021 when he became the first professional male footballer to come out as gay.

Since then, he has called out homophobic abuse that he has faced on the ground and online.

Grace Wilson was signed on by Adelaide United in 2022, and has made previous appearances as part of the Young and Junior Matildas squads.

Wilson says ‘education and understanding are paramount’.(ABC News: Brant Cumming)

Despite overwhelming support from their club, Wilson is aware coming out is only the first step to tackling the larger issue of queer and transphobia in sport.

“Education and understanding are paramount,” they said.

“You can’t change the fact that I play on a women’s team, and I don’t identify as a woman, but what we can change is the language we use around it.

“Saying things like team, or crew, or referring to the colour of a team, the bibs you’re wearing – making sure the language you use is much more inclusive.”

Pride celebration round brings awareness

The A-League’s second annual Pride Celebration round will be held from March 8-10, with Adelaide United headlining in a double-header against Melbourne Victory on March 9.

Adelaide United A-league Women’s coach Adrian Stenta reflected on how Cavallo coming out led to the annual Pride matches.

He said the club had learnt a lot through engaging with players.

“It hasn’t just been about making announcements,” he said.

“There was a lot of education of staff and the playing group as well.

“It’s been great for me to be involved in that and be part of the journey and be educated.”

Stenta said more inclusive and supportive environments not only made players feel safer, but also improved the game.

“It’s about mutual respect and engaging in conversations,” he said.

“That’s the most important thing.

“Anything we can do to make those environments more welcoming, more supportive is helpful for the game and the individual.”

For Wilson, events like the Pride Cup are a way of keeping the torch burning for young queer athletes.

“It’s celebrating Pride, it’s also bringing so much awareness to the cause,” they said.

“Being able to be openly queer, openly LGBTQ, openly non-binary and not feel like this isn’t a space for you.”

The A-League’s second annual Pride Celebration round will be held in March.(Supplied: Adelaide United)

They said however, that they did anticipate some blowback from their decision to come out.

“Of course, I’m going to receive hate and there’s nothing I can do to stop it, so I’m going to try and look at the positives as much as I can,” they said.

“I just hope that by me coming out, it’s something for myself, but also something for other people who may be considering their gender.”

But they also have other plans.

“Being a Matilda I think is my end goal – so taking it as far as I can, and playing at the highest level I can.”

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