I’m still pinching myself. It still hasn’t quite set in yet that Ness and I have been nominated in the influential national sports category in the upcoming Australian LGBTI Awards.

The category is to recognise the efforts from sportspeople who are either breaking barriers as LGBTI athletes or for athletes who are actively supporting and promoting the LGBTI community.

It’s difficult to find the words to express just what it means to Ness and I. I remember when I first found out, I was speechless.
I actually stumbled across the nomination while I was at work.

I’ve recently been put on our company’s Inclusion and Diversity Committee, and at the time I was researching a number of relatable topics from disability to gender, age, and of course LGBTI.

I was doing research on recent happenings in the LGBTI community, and programs which were currently being promoted, so that I could put together a list of recommendations for my company, as per my duties through the diversity committee.

And then, when I was finishing up, I stumbled across the LGBTI Awards website and that was when I saw a photo of Ness and I pop up!

I started looking into it the awards night, to learn more about what it was all about. The awards organisers actually didn’t tell me that I was nominated until a few months later.

They had been trying to find my details, but I was already ahead of the game!

So, yeah, I was blown away, and like I said, I’m still pinching myself to check that it’s real.

A lot of people have been asking me what it means to be nominated. And even though I’ve had a lot of time to think of an answer, it’s really hard to find the words. I guess “proud” is the best way to describe it.

Exclusive Insight Karina Brown 1

Just proud that the image of Ness and I, kissing after the state of origin game, could mean so much in today’s society and impact the lives of many of young people going through difficult times.

That those same young girls and boys could find strength in that photo, means everything to me.

Vanessa and I had no idea our kiss would be shared all around the world.

If so, Ness probably wouldn’t have kissed me – she doesn’t like media attention haha!

But yeah it was honestly the last thing on our minds.

Exclusive Insight Karina Brown 2

Since it happened, it’s had a positive experience and it’s good that we’re being nominated for this award because while that photo captured a moment that was special for Ness and I, it has also helped others out there live their truth.

That’s the most important message; just being able to be who you are.

By standing up for what we believe in, it has helped others who maybe haven’t found their voice yet, find strength in that image. I really mean that. I’ll explain why.

The “post-game kiss”, if we want to call in that, made me reflect on the first ever experience I had seeing two girls kissing.

I was actually in grade three, and I was on the school bus with my little sister.

There were two high school girls on the bus also, who kissed and embraced each other after getting off at their stop. This would be going back 20 years now.

I remember all the high school kids on the bus, just hurling abuse and bullying these two girls like you wouldn’t believe.

I was only eight years old at the time. I didn’t really understand, but I thought what the two girls were doing was a bad thing because of the way the other kids were harassing them.

I remember covering my little sister’s eyes because I thought, “Oh my God, kissing a girl must be a terrible thing. If this act is bad, I can’t have my little sister see it.”

It was like a protective mechanism. Again, I was only eight.

I could just feel the hate coming from the school bus.

I remember finally getting off at our stop, just thinking that what those two girls did must have been the most terrible thing in the world. I never brought it up with anyone. Never even asked my Mum about it.

That bus ride home stayed with me for a long time.

I would reflect on that day every now and again, just thinking that it would be the worst thing in the world to be gay. I kept thinking, don’t be gay.

When I was older, it took me a long time to get a boyfriend. There were times when it would really worry me, because I would think “Am I gay because I don’t have a boyfriend?”.

And then when I actually got my first boyfriend at 16, I felt really relieved. Can you believe that? I felt relieved. Funny, isn’t it?

Relieved because I thought I wouldn’t have to deal with what I saw happen to those two girls.

Of course, hindsight is a beautiful thing, and I couldn’t be more proud of the person I have become.

Exclusive Insight Karina Brown 1

I’m quite lucky – I had the full support of my family when I shared with them my sexuality, and of course we’re in a time now where society is changing, and becoming more accepting every day.

People are getting over all the old prejudice, so I feel really fortunate that I can be myself now.

What does fill my heart now is knowing there is an eight year old girl, somewhere in Australia, that’s looked at my kiss with Ness and will hopefully have a completely different experience to what I saw on that school bus.

They hopefully won’t have the same thoughts growing up that I did, thinking “Oh my gosh, how bad would it be to be gay?”

It’s a huge positive step forward.

Even Billy Slater’s wife, Nicole, posted a photo on her Instagram as well of her and Billy kissing, alongside a picture of me and Ness doing the same thing, suggesting what’s the difference? I thought that was a perfect example from Nicole.

For Ness and I, we can both be open together and both be proud together and enjoy our lives without any fear of walking down the street.

I make no secret that I am out to be an ambassador and an advocate LGBTI people everywhere.

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I didn’t really know anything about the history, to be honest. To play it simply, I just hadn’t looked into it before. I’d just been living my own life because I never really hoped to be different. I like a girl, so what, was my mindset.

But I recently was watching a documentary just the other week about how the marriage vote came to be passed as yes.

I was in tears during the whole documentary because I just didn’t realise the history, and the persecution of what gay people have lived with in Australia.

It’s just disgusting – the fight has been going on long before me and how important that road was to getting same sex marriage across the line.

I had no idea, and I felt really ignorant felt angry at myself that I had not learned more about the history of the national LGBTI community.

What really hit me was that there were these two gentlemen in the documentary, who had been campaigning for change for more than 50 years. They pushed and pushed for marriage equality, and sadly one of them died just days before it was passed.

All they wanted to do was get married, and be recognised as one.

One of them even wrote to the Prime Minister and said, “Please, can you pass it so I can marry him before I die?”

And then he died, and a month later it was passed and it was just heart-wrenching, just watching his partner on the documentary having all the work that they’d done for fifty years to get to a point where he still missed out.

So, yeah, I definitely want to get more involved in the community because now that I know the history and all the pain and suffering that went on.

Yeah, it was quite a shock for me. It made me hate the world for five minutes. How can people be so inhumane and just not loving? I just couldn’t comprehend it.

I feel really fortunate to be in the position that I’m in. I really haven’t had to deal with that sort of pain and suffering from the documentary, but I want to make it my life mission to ensure we can continue to further advance as a community.

I’m definitely looking to be more involved and that’s why I’m now on the Inclusion and Diversity Committee at work.

I thought that would be the first step in how I can just become more involved, not just like I said, on the LGBTI area or all parts of the Inclusion and Diversity because everyone should feel included in this world and I just don’t believe that it’s okay to treat anyone less than a human being.

So, it’s been a really big experience for me these last few months, especially learning about the history.

I just see the importance of it now. See the importance of standing proud, being proud of who I am because if I’m proud of who I am, then other people can see that and be who they are.

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Karina Brown and Vanessa Foliaki have been nominated as influential sports people in the upcoming Australian LGBTI Awards. Click HERE to vote. Pubic voting will be open from now until December 31st.