Jack Dunne will soon be British rugby’s only ‘out’ player and he’s ready to challenge prejudice
Jack Dunne he’s sitting in one of the bars he used to visit as a teenager, laughing at the days when it housed underage nightclubs on its sticky dance floor. He spent his school years trashing the streets of Dublin, drinking Guinness, but there is one night in particular that sticks in his memory.
“I lost my friends on a night out and then the beers tell you what you’re doing,” he says. “She was 18 years old more or less and it was the first time that she kissed a boy. A random guy in a nightclub. He was great. He felt liberating. I found out he was bisexual when I was 15, but kept it hidden for a few years until I came to terms with it. That night he was thinking, “God, I wish he would have finished this three years ago.”
“At the same time, I was terrified that people would find out. really paranoid. He didn’t want me to get caught. You’re afraid of what everyone will think, really. As a teenager, you just want to fit in.
Leinster lock Jack Dunne is focused on the Champions Cup final against La Rochelle next week
At 6-foot-7 and 18-pound 12-pounds, it’s not easy being discreet. Dunne barely walks past the doors of some of the city’s oldest pubs. Back then, he harbored dreams of becoming a professional rugby player (Leinster was the holy grail), but he was worried about how his teammates would react. How would a bisexual be received in the alpha male world of rugby?
“I was the captain of my school’s senior cup team and I didn’t want to risk anything so I consciously waited for the rugby season to be over before leaving. Obviously in rugby you’re showering with all the guys and stuff, so you worry about how they’re going to react. I told a friend to start and it was great. Then I told everyone else and they were great. It wasn’t a big deal, but it felt like a huge weight off my chest.
Dunne played for Ireland Under 20s, appearing in the same Junior World Cup as Romain Ntamack and Marcus Smith, before finally achieving his goal of representing the Leinster first team. When he broke through, his sexuality was old news in the locker room.
The Leinster striker is the only active rugby professional to have left
‘When I joined Leinster, everyone already knew. I went to a massive rugby school. Only in the second rows were James Ryan, Ross Molony, Ryan Baird, Oisin Dowling, myself. He had always talked about things with the boys at the academy and eventually some of the older boys might ask questions about it after a few pints. It was never implied. There was no taboo.
“In teenage rugby locker rooms, it’s probably a more aggressive culture and you could definitely see younger people being forced out of the sport. But by this standard, in professional rugby, you can’t be an asshole. When the Rainbow Cup was launched the other year, Tadhg Furlong was actually pushing me to be the face of it! He is a bit of an entrepreneur and was asking for a 30 percent cut. He is crazy. A fun guy.
Despite being welcomed with open arms, Dunne is the only active professional in rugby union to have come out. And after gay Blackpool footballer Jake Daniels revealed his sexuality this week, he wants to continue to normalize conversations.
“I have a lot of respect for Jake because the football world is a few steps behind rugby,” says Dunne, 23. “Footballers receive much more abuse, regardless. They have the World Cup in Qatar, which is a bit grim. I’m not a huge football fan anyway, but even if I was, I don’t think I’d go see it. The sad truth is that money makes the world go round. How can you promote all these rainbow shoelace 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 has faced its own battles with homophobia, but Dunne has not experienced any problems.
“I was not impressed when Russia was touted as a potential host for the Rugby World Cup, but our sport is taking the right steps. There’s definitely a perception that if you’re gay or bisexual then you might be soft, but that’s obviously not the case. You would expect us to get to a point where it’s not important for someone to come out publicly. You might notice their Instagram wedding post or whatever and it is what it is. It’ll probably take a couple more guys before it settles down.
“Statistically, it would be a huge anomaly if there weren’t more gay rugby players out there.” Queer people have a hard time in society in general and if society were to improve, rugby would probably continue for a bit.
Rugby has faced its own battles against homophobia, with former Australia international Israel Folau denouncing homosexuality as conflicting with his religious beliefs. Folau’s opinion is shared by other Pacific Islanders, but Dunne has never experienced any problems firsthand.
“If religion helps you find peace, then that’s great, but I don’t know if all of that applies to our modern society. People have their beliefs and you may not agree with all of them, but you have to accept that people are from different cultures. Would I like to sit down with Israel Folau to talk about it? Not really. I’m not okay with posting stuff like that all over Instagram.
Blackpool striker Jake Daniels (pictured) is the first UK male professional player to come out as gay
“It is a difficult subject because many players come from very religious backgrounds and that is what they have been taught all their lives. There are Pacific Islanders in Leinster who are dead on it. They have been a great support.’
Dunne is eager to use his platform to open up the conversation. In a few months, he will join Exeter, where he will become the only player ‘outside’ the Premiership. But for now, his focus is on doing everything he can to help with Leinster’s Champions Cup final against La Rochelle next week.
“La Rochelle is a quality team, so the boys are really up for it,” he says. ‘With Stuart Lancaster, our sessions are so intense that when you go to the game you talk about going to the death zone. If you get into a boxing match with the French, you’ll probably lose, so you’ll have to move them. A great week awaits us.
And Dunne, for the good of the sport, is ready to go into battle with actions and words.