Jack Dunne he sits in one of the bars he used to visit as a teenager and laughs at the time when there were underage discos on the sticky dance floor. He spent his school years wading through the streets of Dublin drinking Guinness, but there is one particular night that stuck in his memory.
“I lost friends on a night out, and then the beers tell you what you’re doing,” she says. “I was around 18 and kissed a guy for the first time. Casual guy at the nightclub. It was great. It was liberating. I realized I was bisexual when I was 15 but kept it under the rug for several years until I accepted it myself. That night I thought, “Jesus, I wish I had it over three years ago.”
“At the same time, I was afraid people would find out. Really paranoid. I didn’t want to get caught. You are really afraid of what everyone will think. As a teenager, you just want to fit in.
Leinster lock Jack Dunne’s focus is on the Champions Cup final against La Rochelle next week
At 6ft 7in and 18st 12lb, it’s not easy to be discreet. Dunne can barely fit in the doorway of some of the old-fashioned pubs in the city. Back then, he had dreamed of becoming a professional rugby player – Leinster was the Holy Grail – but was worried about how his teammates would react. How would a bisexual person be received in rugby macho, the alpha male world?
“I was captain of my school’s senior knockout team and didn’t want to risk anything, so consciously waited for the rugby season to end before leaving. Of course, in rugby you shower with all the guys and stuff, so you worry about how they’ll react. I told one friend to start and it was great. Then I told everyone and they were great. It wasn’t a big thing, but it felt like a huge burden off my chest.
Dunne played for Ireland until the 1920s, appearing in the same Junior World Cup as Romain Ntamack and Marcus Smith before finally achieving his goal of representing Leinster’s first team. Before he broke through, his sexuality was old news in the locker room.
The Leinster forward is the only active rugby union professional to come out
“When I joined Leinster, everyone knew. I went to a huge rugby school. Only in the second row were James Ryan, Ross Molony, Ryan Baird, Oisin Dowling, and me. I always talked about things with the guys in the academy and eventually some of the older boys could ask questions about it after a few beers. It was never left unsaid. There was no taboo.
“In teenage rugby locker rooms, it’s probably a more aggressive culture, and you can definitely see younger people being forced out of the sport. But with this standard, in professional rugby, you can’t be an asshole. When the Rainbow Cup started last year, Tadhg Furlong pressed me to be his face! He’s a bit of an entrepreneur and asked for a 30 percent cut. He’s a madman. Funny guy.
Despite being greeted with open arms, Dunne is the only active rugby union professional to reveal himself. And after Blackpool gay footballer Jake Daniels exposed his sexuality this week, he’s looking to continue normalizing the talks.
“I have a lot of respect for Jake because the world of football is just steps behind rugby,” says 23-year-old Dunne. They have the Qatar World Cup which is a bit gloomy. I’m not a big football fan anyway, but even if I were, I don’t think I’d go watch it. The sad truth is that money makes the world go round. How can you promote all these rainbow lace campaigns and then consider something like this? Newcastle United tweeted “Well done” to Jake Daniels, but then their Saudi owners have some questionable beliefs. Can you really do both?
Rugby struggled with homophobia, but Dunne experienced no problems
“I was not impressed when Russia was advertised as a potential host for the Rugby World Cup, but our sport is making good progress. There is definitely a perception that if you are gay or bisexual you can be soft, but of course you are not. One might hope to get to the point where it is not appropriate for someone to go out in public. You might notice their Instagram wedding post or whatever, and that’s the way it is. It’ll probably take a few more guys to normalize.
“Statistically, it would be quite a big anomaly if there weren’t any more gay rugby players. Queer people are going through difficult times in society as a whole, and if society improved, rugby would likely follow a bit.
Rugby has faced homophobia, and former Australian international Israel Folau has called for homosexuality to conflict with his religious beliefs. Folau’s view is shared by other Pacific Islanders, but Dunne has never experienced any problems first hand.
“If religion helps us find peace, that’s great, but I don’t know if all of this applies to our modern society. People have beliefs and I may not agree with all of them, but you have to accept that people come from different cultures. Would I like to sit down with Israel Folau to talk about it? Not really. I disagree with posting such things all over Instagram.
Blackpool forward Jake Daniels (pictured) is the first male UK player to come out as cheerful
“This is a difficult topic because many of the players come from a very religious background and have been taught this throughout their lives. There are Pacific Islanders in Leinster who are worried about it. They really supported me.
Dunne eagerly uses his platform to start a conversation. In a few months he will be joining Exeter, where he will become the only outgoing Premiership player. But for now, his focus is on doing everything he can to help with the Leinster Champions Cup final against La Rochelle next week.
“La Rochelle is a quality team, so the boys are really prepared for it,” he says. “With Stuart Lancaster, our sessions are so intense that when you go to a game you talk about going to the death zone. If you take part in a boxing match against the French, you will likely lose, so you have to move them. We have a great week ahead of us.
And Dunne, for the greater good of the sport, is ready to fight in both deeds and words.