New problems for Israel Folau – the embattled rugby star in trouble again because of homophobia
Israel Folau is an elite sportsman in Australia. A star of rugby league, at the peak of his career. But Folau has had his contract terminated by Rugby Australia – the governing body of the sport – potentially ending his career. Folau’s social media posts have been deemed as being homophobic and therefore in breach of Rugby Australia’s code of conduct.
In the latest development in this sage, Folau’s attempts to crowd-fund to pay for his legal action against Rugby Australia has also hit a road-block. After quickly raising nearly A$1 million, crowd-funding site GoFundMe has shut down the site and refunding all donations because it breaches the site’s rules by promoting the exclusion of LGBTQ people.
Folau began to express his views in relation to homosexuality during the Australian plebiscite on Marriage Equality that was held in 2017.
During the plebiscite, Rugby Australia publicly stated its support for Marriage Equality. However, Folau publicly dissented from that position, based on his religious views.
The question of religion
Although raised in the Mormon faith, Folau converted to the Assemblies of God Pentecostal church as an adult.
Folau has credited his relationship with God as a reason for his sporting success. In a 2017 article for Players Voice, Folau wrote that he reads the Bible every day and that faith in Jesus Christ is the “cornerstone of every single thing in my life” and “I believe that it is a loving gesture to share passages from the Bible with others. I do it all the time when people ask me questions about my faith or things relating to their lives, whether that’s in-person or on my social media accounts.”
In his social media posts, there have been a number of references to homosexuals needing to repent or they will burn in hell. Following an Instagram post to that effect in April 2019, Rugby Australia announced its decision to terminate his contract. Following a disciplinary hearing, the termination took effect.
Is this a victory for the LGBTQ community?
While it is sad to see an athlete of Folau’s calibre limit his potential due to his public statements, this is an important moment in Australian sport and the journey towards equality for the LGBTQ community in Australia.
The termination of Folau’s contract by Rugby Australia is a clear demonstration that in Australia today, homophobia has consequences. No one is limiting Folau’s religious beliefs, or his ability to express his beliefs and his views on homosexuality, but Rugby Australia is making it clear that it views beliefs such as Folau’s as homophobic and that it doesn’t want to be associated with homophobia.
In a wider context, the case of Israel Folau demonstrates the value of corporate allies. It can sometimes seem a bit over-commercialised to be marching alongside banks and accountants at our Pride celebrations, but Rugby Australia consider themselves to be an ally of the LGBTQ community and this is an example of an ally walking the walk.
It’s also worth noting that one of Rugby Australia’s main corporate sponsors is the airline Qantas. The CEO of Qantas is Alan Joyce – a proud gay man who has been at the forefront of the fight for marriage equality in Australia.
An attempt to crowd-fund for support
Earlier this week, Folau launched an appeal for public donations to help him legally contest his dismissal. Folau is arguing that his firing was unlawful and was an act of religious discrimination.
Through a crowd-funding campaign, Folau aimed to raise A$3m (£1.6m; $2.1m) for his legal case.
“Every Australian should be able to practice their religion without fear of discrimination in the workplace…” says Folau, in a video to launch the crowd-funding campaign. “Even people who don’t share my beliefs have defended my right to uphold and express them. If you want to join this journey with me, to fight for the right to freedom of religion, please donate.”
Using the crowd-funding platform GoFundMe, it’s reported that Folau raised A$760,000 (£414,000; $530,000).
However, the BBC reports that Folau’s fund-raising page has now been shut down by GoFundMe as it violates the site’s rules as it was deemed to be promoting the exclusion of LGBTQ people. All donations will be refunded.
“As a company, we are absolutely committed to the fight for equality for LGBTIQ+ people and fostering an environment of inclusivity,” said spokeswoman Nicola Britton. “While we welcome GoFundMe’s engaging in diverse civil debate, we do not tolerate the promotion of discrimination or exclusion.”
What next for Folau?
Folau has filed a case against Rugby Australia and Rugby New South Wales at the Fair Work Commission – Australia’s national workplace relations tribunal. He is likely to be seeing up to A$10m in damages through the Fair Work Commission.