‘You can’t be what you can’t see’: Bulldogs embracing visible representation

Bonnie Toogood of the Western Bulldogs proudly wearing the 2021 Pride guernsey. Source: Western Bulldogs

The Western Bulldogs have been one of the AFLW’s pioneers in recognising, supporting, and giving a platform to LGBTQIA+ people in footballing communities.

The Bulldogs, alongside fellow AFLW inaugural side Carlton, started the tradition of the Pride Game guernsey in 2018, running out in the specially designed kits for the first time.

In the men’s competition, Sydney and St. Kilda hosted the first ever Pride Game in Round 21, 2015. 50 metre lines were lavishly decorated with the rainbow pride flag, in what was a momentous occasion for football at all levels.

The Pride guernsey however, has remained unique to the AFLW. It’s easy to see why, given the success of last weekend’s Pride Round, with five teams donning rainbow-decorated guernseys.

Having personally attended the match between the Pies and Cats on Saturday afternoon, the atmosphere could only be described as carnivalesque. Flags were flown and songs were sung, rainbow colours adorned by every other person in the 2,938 strong crowd at Victoria Park.

Western Bulldogs graphic designer Natalie Gills understands the importance of the round to many, having designed the Dogs’ last three Pride guernseys.

Speaking to The Inner Sanctum, Gills breaks down the meaning behind inclusivity and visible representation in sport.

“Any elite level sporting code has a huge influence in shaping society, particularly when you’ve got young people, whether they’re trans, queer, straight,” she said.

“They always look up to their sporting heroes and it makes them feel like they have a place in this world. One thing that I’ve always thought about when I’m at work is ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’.

“Particularly AFLW has taken a lead in that, finally making way for people of all communities and backgrounds to come and enjoy a game of football.”

The introduction of the AFLW in 2016 was special to Gills, and has helped to inspire her understanding of inclusivity when creating the Pride guernsey.

“I’m a big sportsperson, I’ve played sport growing up and all my life, have had heroes growing up, and I’ve never really thought of having female footballers as my sporting heroes,” she said.

“That’s purely because there weren’t any.

“Now that we’ve got that, all these young girls can finally see what they can be. In the pride community as well, if they can see that’s there people like them that are playing sport at this elite level and that people are celebrating them, that goes so far for their confidence and them just feeling included in the world.”

“Seeing the team run out in the guernsey, it’s so surreal.

“When I was thinking about becoming a graphic designer, you don’t look too forward into the future about what sort of projects you might be working on. This is one of those ones where it’s a once in a lifetime thing.”

The Bulldogs Pride guernsey incorporates 35 different LGBTQIA+ flag designs, including the front and centre pride progress flag, which includes shades of brown and black to represent LGBTQIA+ people of colour, as well as the trans flag alongside the traditional pride flag.

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Every flag included on the Bulldogs Pride guernsey. Source: Western Bulldogs

Gills attributes her inspiration behind the inclusion of the flags in part to Bulldog Pride, the Bulldogs LGBTQIA+ supporter group.

“I reached out to them [the Bulldog Pride group] early in the process, when I started doing a little bit of research into these identities and flags,” she said.

“They pointed out a few things that I could have included a bit more, and gave me a bit of background into some of these identities, so I understood a bit more about what these flags meant and the representation that they show.

“The flag themselves, there is so much meaning in some of them. The colours that they use, the pride rainbow is a big representation of the general pride community, but those colours mean a lot individually.

“Crafting them into all these different flags, there’s so much meaning and representation that I had no awareness of. For them to be able to help me out really early was super helpful for me.

“What needs to be pointed out is that these are not the only 34 flags in the pride community, there’s so many more out there that are a bit lesser known but obviously no less important.

“Even the Bulldogs Pride group themselves, they said to me ‘we’re constantly learning of new groups and flags and people that have their own identity and we’re always growing in that space, because everyone’s different.’”

Education is one of the most important parts around the pride celebrations, Gills believes, to come towards a fuller understanding of the LGBTQIA+ community and the many ways that they identify as themselves.

“My hope was that this guernsey would start some of those conversations,” she said.

“Even in my own circles, there was a lot that people were asking me, and that’s great, that’s all you really want, is for people to ask and learn and show compassion.

“It’s about celebrating everyone’s individuality, and just being proud of who you are. Promoting a space for everyone to feel safe when coming to a game, and just to feel like they’re included in the community.”

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