All Black alumnus Campbell Johnstone shares experience

26 April 2023 | News

In a recent guest lecture, alumnus and former All Black Campbell Johnston discussed how he used his buried emotions about his sexuality to push for higher performance.

Campbell was recently in the headlines as the first All Black to publicly come out as gay.

Lecturer Dr Tom Kavanagh invited him to speak to a Sport and Recreation class as an opportunity to look at the intersection of sport and sexuality, examine how heteronormativity and masculine expectations play out in in sport, and discuss the experiences, barriers, and opportunities for young gay and lesbian athletes.

Campbell told the class he had come out as gay to some of his teammates and family when he was still playing for the All Blacks. 

He described himself as a private person but felt the need to come out publicly to normalise the idea of gay sportspeople and end the search for the first openly gay All Black.

"There is no need for a witch hunt anymore," he said.

He wanted to help gay people to feel comfortable to continue playing rugby, as he knew a lot of people who hadn't.

"I hope people will feel safer."

He said rugby had played a huge part in helping him accept who he was.

Picked as an All Black in 2005 from a victorious Crusaders team, he said the close environment of the Crusaders allowed him to feel accepted. While there was some banter, which he said would probably not be accepted now, he did not see it as coming "from a place of hate".

However, he would blame his "gay side" if he had a bad game, and push himself to train harder.

In response to a question from the class, he said he would have liked to come out earlier, but didn’t think it would have been as well received as it was now.

After playing in the Lindisfarne College first XV for three years, he moved south to study Property and Valuation at Lincoln, where he said he made lifelong friends, and was picked to play rugby for Canterbury then the Crusaders.

He first thought he was gay at around the age of 15 and said "it did not sit well" with him. 

"It was not part of the plan. Being an All Black was being a strong, heterosexual man, so I put it on the backburner."

He was confused at school but kept busy, so no-one seemed to wonder why he didn’t have a girlfriend.

"I was a classic Kiwi male," he said. "Bottle it up and push it down inside and hide it."

Although he was still not 100 per cent sure he was gay at that stage, he told his parents to ease his anxiety but still felt pressure to be honest with his teammates.

He gave himself two options: stop playing rugby or tell somebody.

"And I couldn’t stop playing rugby."

He said if he had any advice for a young person in his position it would be to "tell one person".

"It might be the only person. There are no rules about coming out."