31 Jan 2023

'A trailblazing effort' - Rugby figures line up to back first openly gay All Black Campbell Johnstone

8:19 pm on 31 January 2023
Campbell Johnstone helps organise the defensive line during the Junior All Blacks training session at North Harbour Stadium, Auckland, New Zealand on Wednesday 23 May 2007. Photo: Hagen Hopkins/PHOTOSPORT


Campbell Johnstone has been lauded for his public statements on his sexuality. Photo: Photosport/ Hagen Hopkins

New Zealand rugby legends have come out in support of the first openly gay All Black.

Former prop Campbell Johnstone, who wore the black jersey in 2005, came out publicly on TVNZ last night.

He told TVNZ he was speaking up to help remove the stigma of homosexuality in rugby.

"If I open up that door, and kinda make that closet magically disappear, then you know, we're going to help a lot of people."

Current and former players, coaches and commentators have backed Johnstone for going on the record.

Sir Graham Henry coached the All Blacks when Johnstone was in the side.

He described him as a very good player who made "quite a difference" in the team - but said he imagined Johnstone went through some mental gymnastics.

"Campbell's obviously thought long and hard about this, and I'm just delighted that he's got the confidence to do that.

"And if there's other rugby players with the same sexual orientation ... hopefully they'll feel confident now to do the same thing as Campbell has done.

"So I think it's set a good example."

Black Ferns technical coach Graham Henry 2022.

Sir Graham Henry, who coached the All Blacks when Johnstone was in the side, side the former player had set a good example. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Former All Black Ian Jones said he was extremely proud.

"Courageous, really, and whilst I don't know Campbell, when I was listening to him speak, and he spoke beautifully, I was thinking, well that's fantastic.

"His sexuality has nothing to do with his ability to play rugby, or our sport, any sport for that matter."

Veteran commentator and broadcaster Grant Nisbett said he applauded Johnstone.

"This is a trailblazing effort on the part of Campbell.

"I think it'll give others perhaps a little more confidence to come out and just declare who they are."

For the gay rugby community, Johnstone's announcement was a significant milestone - a movement towards changing deep set ideas of what it is to be an All Black.

Brad Christensen, president of Auckland-based gay and inclusive Falcons rugby club, said Johnstone's bravery helped show people that rugby was a sport for everyone.

"I guess the significance of his story is that it promotes, particularly to rangatahi and those that are in the queer community that it is okay to come out, it is okay to participate in sport."

While it was big for the men's game, openly gay players are nothing new for the women.

But as rugby commentator Alice Soper said, that did not mean it was a welcoming environment.

"We know, from the Black Ferns review last year, one of the things they identified amongst that review was that they didn't know how to support their rainbow athletes in that high performance space.

"So there's still a lot of work that needs to be done by rugby, but by sports in general, to understand how to support our queer athletes."

Soper had a message for Johnstone.

"Big love to him, and the cheeky thing that I say is all the best front rowers are queer, because I am too.

"So I'm like, yeah, the front row."

Others took to social media to show their support for Johnstone.

Black Ferns star Ruby Tui said on Instagram "I've never been more proud of an All Black, ever".

Highlanders Aaron Smith. Crusaders v Highlanders at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, New Zealand, on Friday February 25th 2022. Copyright photo: Derek Morrison / www.photosport.nz

All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith Photo: PhotoSport / Derek Morrison

Current All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith took to Twitter to say Johnstone showed "bravery and mana".

And Smith's teammate Brad Weber said it was a "hugely influential moment for so many young people, rugby players especially, who might be questioning their sexuality."

The All Blacks, Crusaders, New Zealand Rugby and World Rugby have also shared their support of Johnstone on social media.

And many people - including the man himself - have said they hoped one day such a statement would not hit the headlines at all.