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Rugby stars react as Campbell Johnstone becomes first openly gay ...

Current All Blacks have praised former prop Campbell Johnstone.

Campbell Johnstone (left) during an All Blacks trial in 2005. Photo / Getty

Current All Blacks have praised former prop Campbell Johnstone after he has become the first All Black to publicly come out as gay.

Johnstone, All Black #1056, played three tests in the black jersey in 2005, 72 times for Canterbury and 38 matches for the Crusaders between 2002-2008.

He spoke to TVNZ’s Seven Sharp programme last night about his decision to come out.

“If I can be the first All Black that comes out as gay and take away the pressure and the stigma surrounding the whole issue then it can actually help other people. Then the public will know that there is one in amongst the All Blacks,” he said.

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“To be able to do that could possibly be one of the final pieces in the puzzle for New Zealand sport...it could be a very vital piece that just gives everyone closure.

“If I open up that door and magically make that closet disappear, then we’re going to help a lot of people.”

All Black halfbacks Brad Weber and Aaron Smith noted on Twitter how important Johnstone’s announcement was.

Legend! Hugely influential moment for so many young people, rugby players especially, who might be questioning their sexuality. Much respect, Campbell ???? https://t.co/8Y1LhI5Jbb

— Brad Weber (@brad_weber9) January 30, 2023

Unreal bye Cambell Johnson. Amazing story on @SevenSharp such bravery and mana shown ????????

— Aaron Smith (@Te_Nug) January 30, 2023

Thank you Campbell Johnstone for your visibility and sharing your authentic self. https://t.co/Swu2r2I9ez

— sharni williams OLY OAM she/her (@sharni2388) January 30, 2023

Much love and support for All Black #1056 Campbell Johnstone for having the courage to share his story and helping create a more inclusive game. ???? pic.twitter.com/z9rjOKl1rn

— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) January 30, 2023

"I'm also hoping to help open the door for anyone struggling in this space" ❤️

Former All Blacks prop Campbell Johnstone has come out as the first openly gay male New Zealand rugby player pic.twitter.com/cjZAVth769

— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) January 30, 2023

Johnstone opened up about living “a double life” and “living a lie,” trying to portray the stereotypes of a rugby player.

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“One of the main things was because, within myself, I was never really comfortable with the whole concept; and my dream was to be an All Black.

“Manly, strong, possibly had a wife and kids. I’d pushed that side of me down deeper and deeper; I’ve been to some interesting places with that. It would come to the surface and I may have had a bad game, and I would look at that side of me and blame that for it. It slowly starts to affect you. It’s hard living a double life, or living a lie.

“We had a phrase in rugby saying if you could look yourself in the mirror and be honest with yourself then you’ve done enough. Here I was looking in the mirror, haven’t been honest with my teammates; and that puts a lot of pressure on and just builds up on you,” he said.

“I pushed that side of me down deeper and deeper...I went to some interesting places.”

Johnstone, a prop, made his debut against Fiji and also played two tests against the British and Irish Lions.

“The private part of me wanted to keep that private. Telling close friends and rugby mates was enough for me.

“I’m very happy and comfortable about myself,” he told Seven Sharp.

“There’s no rule, there’s no law about coming out. You don’t have to come out. If you feel it’s not right for you, then don’t. The idea of an ideal rugby player or Crusader, is of an honest, strong person. The stronger you are, and if you can make yourself stronger by relieving anxiety and stress, then you can fit that mould.

“In some part I’m disappointed it’s taken me so long to do this, then there’s the other aspect that I’m somewhat maybe a little bit sad we are actually having to do this. If I open up that door and magically make that closet disappear then we’re going to help a lot of people.

“Rugby is a sport that is welcoming to everyone and a place where people should feel safe to be who they are,” he said.

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New Zealand Rugby CEO Mark Robinson said Johnstone’s strength and visibility “will pave the way for others”.

Robinson said NZ Rugby knows there are people who have not always been comfortable to be who they are in rugby.

“We want to be clear, no matter who you love, rugby has your back.”

Arohanui Campbell Johnstone All Black #1056 – your strength and visibility will pave the way for others in sport here in Aotearoa and around the world ???????????? pic.twitter.com/LcEQsp2e1y

— New Zealand Rugby (@NZRugby) January 30, 2023

Sport Minister and openly gay MP Grant Robertson shared his support for Johnstone on Instagram, calling it “a big moment”.

“A big moment. And a huge thanks to Campbell Johnstone for blazing this trail,” Robertson wrote.

“It’s important to create an inclusive environment in sport at all levels, and that starts at the top. In the Black Ferns we have had role models for the Rainbow community for some time. And now with the All Blacks another barrier has been broken. I hope it inspires future generations to be open, happy and comfortable. There is still a long way to go, but feels a very significant step. And from one prop to another, ngā mihi Campbell!”

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In 2019, All Black halfback TJ Perenara spoke out about his support for the Rainbow community and the age-old question - are Kiwis ready for a gay All Black?

In the interview with LGBTQIA+ publication Express magazine, Perenara discussed how the All Blacks embraced diversity and welcomed anyone to aspire to be part of their team.

“Our job is to make sure that people from all communities feel comfortable enough to aspire to want to be an All Black, so I would hope that if anyone from the LGBTQIA+ community became an All Black, they would feel accepted and wanted in the environment.”

Perenara said he couldn’t speak on behalf of the All Blacks on whether fans would be ready for an openly gay All Black, but he hoped Kiwis were. He also believed the team shared his inclusive attitude.

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