THE local gay community has applauded Ian Thorpe’s “brave” step out of the closet.
Visibly on the verge of tears, the Australian Olympic swimmer revealed he was gay in an interview with Michael Parkinson, televised on Sunday night.
“I’ve thought about this for a long time. I’m ... I’m not straight,” Thorpe said.
After years of probing media speculation, Thorpe said it had only been in the past two weeks that he felt comfortable telling his closest friends and family.
Tamworth hairstylist Ben Tochel said it was great to see Thorpe, roughly the same age as him, come out after such a long struggle.
“Everyone has their own journey and takes their own time,” he said.
“I think it’s great he exposed himself as an athlete – it might mean others can actually be a bit more comfortable in their own sexuality.
“What he has done is a very brave thing.”
Social media responses have ranged from the flippant “who cares?” to an earnest gratitude for the symbol Thorpe’s act sends to young people who may be questioning their sexuality.
Mr Tochel came out to his parents when he was 17 and said he was “one of the lucky ones”.
“I was more scared myself than my parents were,” he said.
“It was a sigh of relief. My parents didn’t care as long their kid was happy.”
He said while there were always some locals who don’t accept gay people for who they are, or simply had never engaged with them, overall Tamworth had a good attitude towards its gay community.
He said pockets of Tamworth’s social scene – such as the business industry, the Tamworth musical society and the dramatic society – were openly accepting of not just gay people, but anybody, whatever their shape, colour, or spots.
Many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, intersex and queer (LGTBIQ) youth are confronted with discrimination and prejudice daily.
In the face of homophobic bullying, LGBTIQ youth are more likely than their straight counterparts to suffer mental health conditions like despression and anxiety.
For Mr Tochel, non-acceptance can provoke a vicious cycle, with the gay community themselves building “brick walls”.
“If they put up brick walls to other people, (straight people) are only going to see a certain aspect of us and not the full thing,” he said.
“That can put us a step back instead of a step forward.”