Anti-Gay Aussie Athlete Israel Folau, Fired for Social Media Disparagements, Files Suit

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday August 1, 2019

Australian anti-gay former rugby star Israel Folau, who trashed his career by ignoring both a stated code of conduct and warnings from his team and from Rugby Australia about posting derogatory social media comments targeting LGBTQs, is taking his former employers to court and claiming that his broadsides are a form of religious speech for which he is being persecuted, the BBC reports.

Folau was fired in May following a string of anti-gay posts that also cost him sponsorship deals with Asics and Land Rover and reportedly angered rugby sponsor Qantas airlines.

Folau's career woes began when he posted an anti-gay message at Instagram last year in which he declared that gays are destined to be consigned to "HELL," a comment he made in response to a follower's question on God's plan for sexual minorities. When that post prompted a backlash, Folau was warned by Rugby Australia officials about such posts. Players are contractually obligated to be mindful of comportment, including on social media. Folau immediately began claiming he was the victim of religious persecution even though he was let off with nothing more than a warning.

But Folau's homophic attacks just kept on coming until he finally crossed the line with a post he made in April that drew from the King James Version of the Bible and lumped LGBTQs together with "liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, and others deemed by scripture to be sinful.

At that point, Rugby Australia announced its intention to fire Folau and the case went to a tribunal, which found the athlete to be in " high breach of contract" continuing to post incendiary homophobic material. Rugby Australia officially canceled Folau's contract in May, only for Folau to launch legal proceedings against the organization - again claiming that he was the victim of religious persecution, a charge that Rugby Australia flatly rejected.

Folau then set up a GoFundMe page and made a video in which he portrayed himself as being attacked for his faith. After a backlash, GoFundMe yanked Folau's page, citing their own community standards. Folau then took his solicitations elsewhere and reportedly raked in $2 million in donations.

The BBC noted that the case has the potential to clarify — or rewrite — Australian labor laws as well as policies around hate speech.

When not taking aim at LGBTQ people online, Folau has delivered homophobic sermons at his church, media sources have reported.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.