Beyond Blue Ambassador Jason Ball, age 28, was awarded 2017 Victorian Young Australian of the Year for his work tackling homophobia in sport.
He was announced as the state’s award recipient at Melbourne’s Government House on November 16.
Jason now becomes a national finalist for Young Australian of the Year, which will be announced in Canberra on 25 January 2017.
Jason ‘came out’ to his mates at the Yarra Glen Football Club in 2012, despite fearing they would shun him because he was gay.
He was the first gay AFL player, at any level, to come out publicly – a move that was influential in the Australian Rules Football League addressing homophobia in the sport.
Jason was rewarded for his courage by his teammates being fully supportive of him.
“It was the one place I thought I’d never be able to come out, ever,” Jason said.
“I didn’t know any footballers who were gay, so I could only assume the worst, and it scared me.”
As a Beyond Blue Ambassador, Jason hopes his personal story will help others who are struggling with coming out in sport, or in any other context.
“I think it's important for young people who are struggling to know that there is help available and I just highly recommend talking things out. If you keep these thoughts bottled up in your head it can spiral out of control.”
“Being gay doesn't define me, but it is part of who I am. If anything the journey has made me a stronger, more resilient person,” he said.
“My advice to anyone thinking about coming out is don't be afraid to be yourself, because you'll be surprised how accepting other people can be if you actually give them the chance.”
Besides being a Beyond Blue Ambassador, Jason has publicly advocated for the rights of people in the LGBTI community.
In the 2016 Federal Election he contested the House of Representatives seat of Higgins as a candidate for the Australian Greens.