Rugby pro Dan Palmer comes out as gay after years of ‘despising himself’ with vital message of hope

Emma Powys Maurice
·3-min read

Dan Palmer has come out as gay, becoming the first Wallabies player and just the second men’s international to do so.

In a moving column for the Sydney Morning Herald, the 32-year-old Australian former rugby union player described his mental health problems and drug abuse as he struggled to accept his sexuality, revealing that he regularly cried himself to sleep and even contemplated suicide.

“I was incredibly frustrated, angry and desperately sad. I despised myself and the life I was living. I was trapped in a false narrative and could see no way out,” he wrote. “Most nights, I cried myself to sleep and routinely numbed myself with a heavy cocktail of opioids.

“I fantasised about disappearing, changing my name and starting my life all over again. It is not an exaggeration to say my own death felt preferable to anybody discovering I was gay.”

After years of emotional turmoil, Palmer said he was partly prompted to come out in response to “the ignorance of Israel Folau”.

Folau was sacked from the New South Waratahs in disgrace last year for his persistent homophobic remarks, including the claims that “hell awaits” gay people and the Australian bushfires are “God’s judgment” for same-sex marriage.

Folau launched a $14 million wrongful dismissal lawsuit against Rugby Australia and eventually received a hefty settlement and an apology from his former employer. The disgraced player has now signed a new deal to play for the RFL Super League team Catalans Dragons.

His explosive comments led Palmer to reflect on how homophobia is internalised by young players, which was a contributing factor in his decision to write the column.

Dan Palmer: ‘Israel Folau will never see the impact he has had on these young people, but if he could, I doubt he could live with himself.’

Dan Palmer continued: “Although it wasn’t the primary impetus for me doing this, the longer the Folau saga dragged on, the more I felt a responsibility to say something.

“To me, what is more important than the damage he has caused rugby is the deep impact he has undoubtedly had on kids who looked up to him, and who struggle every day with understanding their sexuality.

“He will never see the impact he has had on these young people, but if he could, I doubt he could live with himself.”

Thankfully, he added, views like Folau’s “are the exception, not the rule” in rugby, and he was encouraged by the chorus of prominent players and officials who condemned his position.

He paid tribute to the bravery of Gareth Thomas, the first openly gay professional rugby union player, for blazing a trail he could follow.

“Although I didn’t have the strength to follow his lead at the time, the descriptions he gave of his experience resonated with me and I was inspired by what he had done,” Palmer said.

“It is a slow grind, but we need to build a culture, both in and out of sport, where people are comfortable being themselves, whatever that may be.”

Palmer concluded: “It sickens me to know that in the year 2020 there are still people torturing themselves the way I was, both in and out of sport – we need to be better.

“If this piece can prompt a conversation, make space for people to feel more comfortable being themselves, or can help someone better understand what a loved one may be going through, it will have been a success.”