Former New Zealand prop Campbell Johnstone hopes to “take away the pressure and stigma” after becoming the first All Black to come out as gay.
Johnstone, 43, who played three tests in 2005, decided not to come out publicly during his playing career, but he had told his friends and family.
“I was never comfortable with the whole concept and my dream was to be an All Black,” he told TVNZ.
“My view of an All Black was manly, strong, possibly with a wife and kids.”
Johnstone, who also made 72 appearances for Canterbury and 38 for the Crusaders – before retiring in 2012 – told current affairs TV program Seven Sharp how he had been “living a lie” and leading a “double life.”
“If I can be the first All Black that comes out as gay and take away the pressure and stigma surrounding the issue, it can actually help other people,” added Johnstone.
“Then the public will know that there is one in amongst the All Blacks and it could be one of the final pieces in the puzzle sports-wise that gives everyone closure.”
New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson said his former team-mate’s “strength and visibility will pave the way for others.”
“We know that there are people who have not always been comfortable to be who they are in rugby. We want to be clear, no matter who you love, rugby has your back,” added Robinson.
New Zealand sports minister and former deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson, who is gay, also thanked Johnstone for “blazing this trail” and said his announcement was “a big moment”.
“Another barrier has been broken,” said Robertson. “I hope it inspires future generations to be open, happy and comfortable. There is still a long way to go, but this feels a very significant step.”
All Black scrum-half Brad Weber tweeted: “Legend! Hugely influential moment for so many young people, rugby players especially, who might be questioning their sexuality. Much respect, Campbell.”
In November 2022, Australian Isaac Humphries became the second male basketball player to come out as gay while playing after Jason Collins, who came out in April 2013.
Adelaide United player Josh Cavallo is the only openly gay top-flight male professional footballer in the world, having come out as gay in October 2021.
Meanwhile, in May 2022, Blackpool forward Jake Daniels became the first openly gay active male professional footballer in the UK.