‘People spat at me and insulted me’ says former professional player who came out in 1997
EXCLUSIVE: By ALEXIA CLONDA
The revelation in an interview by American writer James Zug that squash stars Rachael Grinham and Jenny Duncalf were squash’s first openly gay couple produced an overwhelming wave of support from throughout the squash community.
In Australia, it brought home some painful memories for Alexia Clonda, whose decision to come out as a teenager 40 years ago resulted in a poisonous response from many in the world of squash.
A former British and Australian junior champion, who reached a career-high ranking position of five in the world, she has worked tirelessly to promote the sport. She was a founding member of the women’s tour organisers, WISPA, which she chaired from 1985-89.
After retiring from playing, the Sydney-based Clonda has been heavily involved in coaching and organising events.
However, her Masters career has been put on hold following a heart attack last year and hip replacement surgery which has required further operations. She is happy to share her experiences with readers of Squash Mad.
I congratulate Rachael Grinham and Jenny Duncalf for coming out, and doing so as a couple.
The more gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people that are out or more appropriately can be open and comfortable in their own skins in the world the better.
Being “different” among your peers and in life in general is not a road that one chooses, really.
Way back in 1977, I made the decision to “come out” to my family when I was just 16. I waited until the 1980s before deciding to do the same in the world of squash. It was rumoured in the squash community but the decision was not an easy one to make. I was used to the whispers but as soon as I went public I was called names, I was spat at, made fun of, vilified and I lost opportunities because of this decision.
Going on the circuit in 1982, I can remember an article in the Squash Player magazine; the comment went something like “there are many female players who are all overweight and lesbians on the circuit”.
That crushed me, and made me question why does being different make you to be the odd one out, the “abnormal” one and someone who can then be picked on, ridiculed and targeted to feel bad about themselves?
The other thing that annoyed and intrigued me was the judgement that being heterosexual was somehow superior and it didn’t matter who you loved as long as it was the opposite sex.
In my 43 years in squash, my experience of being gay is that I have been silently accepted by the whole, rejected by some, ignored by others, discriminated against by some and come to by other gay squash players for an understanding ear to listen.
In some circles I am still discriminated against. In saying that, the world has changed, and the gay community has come a long way, as have other minority communities.
Mind you, there is still a progress to be made, in many areas of human tolerance, compassion, unity and understanding.
Reading about Rachael and Jenny brought back so many memories of my own time on the WISPA Tour, as it was known then.
I did have a relationship with another squash player, who was a state-ranked player in NSW and went on to represent Wales at a World Open.
We played a couple of times, and boy was she competitive. I would always win, but there was a chill in the air on those occasions.
Our relationship was widely accepted, but we did not flaunt it in everyone’s face. Mind you, some of the guys hit on her, which annoyed me. Many thought it was courageous, I just said, we are just like everyone else.
I am likely that squash was accepting, it could have been a very different story if they hadn’t.
I can remember one famous player saying to me, ‘What I like about you Clonda, you are up front with being you, and you’re not a sleaze’, as many people thought back then about gay people.
In 2002 I ran the GayGames squash event in Sydney. Squash was among 50 or more sports and cultural events that made the GayGames, which are held every four years.
We had over 200 squash players from all over the world; being gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (intersex was not identified yet). It was fantastic, all had fun, lots of squash was played, and very competitively might I add, and we all watched the Melbourne Cup together at a BBQ.
Even the four National Referees in attendance had a great time. Go figure, hey.
Bottom line is this: we were squash players first, the other stuff was secondary.
Sport can do so much for the betterment of people, community and life.
My dear mother was my rock and my family accepted me for me, squash and all!
At the end of the day, my advice is simply this: Be true to yourself, do not hurt others, tell the truth, have integrity, do what you love, and be happy.
Above colour, religion, nationality, where we live, how much many we have or have not, or our backgrounds, we are all human that makes us all equal in God’s eyes and no less or more than others.
Last year was scary. I had a heart attack in May. There was a 75% blockage in one of the main arteries, and I had a stent inserted in October.
I had bilateral hip replacements way back in 2009. They went south and need revision surgery. I have had a first stage replacement on my left as I got an infection in the hip which went septic, and I was in hospital from March to April of this year. I am just waiting on a date, in the next two weeks, to finish the left before they do the right.
Social Commentator, Motivational Speaker and High Performance Coach
ALEXIA CLONDA CAREER HIGHLIGHTS
• Current – Squash, Lifestyle & Motivational Coach, Mentor
• 2012 – Current – Consultant Coach David Palmer Squash Academy
• 2011 – Tournament Director Sydney International Squash Classic
• 2010 – Tournament Director Australian International Squash Classic, NSW Squash Classic
• 2005 – Current – Professional Squash Coaches Association of Australia Level 2 Certificate
• 2009 – Finalist NSW Sports Federation Masters Athlete of the Year
• 2009 – Championship Director – World Masters Games Squash Event, Australian Junior Open,
NSW Squash Open, NSW Squash Junior Championships, Australian International Squash Classic
• 2008 – Winner of the Sue Fear / Womensport & Recreation NSW
• 2008 – Tournament Director NSW Squash Open, NSW Squash Junior State Championships
• 2006 – 2009 NSW Squash Director, CEO
• 2006-2009 – Tournament Director – NSW Squash Open, NSW Squash Junior Championships, NSW
Squash Open, Australian Closed Championships
• 2008 – 2011 Ambassador Australian Lung Foundation
• 2007 – Tournament Director NSW Squash Open, NSW Squash Junior Championships
• 2007 – current Australian Manager David Palmer OAM (Twice World Champion)
• Publicist for Elite Squash Players Anthony Ricketts and David Palmer
• 2006 – Australian Commonwealth Team – Official
• 2002 – Gay Games VI squash coordinator/competition manager
• 2000 – Recipient 2000 Australian Sports Medal for services to Squash, over 20 years
• 2000 – Sydney Olympic Games Volunteer
• Sports Forum Coordinator for World Asthma Awareness Day initiative by Institute of Respiratory Medicine
• Highest World Ranking 5
• Highest Australian Ranking 2
• Highest NSW Ranking 1
• 1985-1989 – Chairwoman Women’s International Squash Players Association (WISPA)
• 1983 – WISPA Foundation member
• 1985-1989 International Squash Racquets Federation, Women’s Committee
• 1981-1986 NSW Representative & Captain 1975-1979 Junior Representative & Captain
• 1983-1985 Australian Representative
• 1983 World Team Champions
• 1983 NSW Open Champion
• 1985-1986 Australia Sports Commission National Athlete Award Scheme
• Sport Australia Award Outstanding Performance 1984 Australian Women’s Squash Team
• 1982-1983 NSW Women’s SRA – Committee member, Publicity Officer
• 1986-1989 NSW Selector
• 1986-1989 Australian Squash Racquets Association, National Selector
• 1978-1979 Australian Junior Captain
• 1979 British Junior Champion
• 1978 Australian Junior Champion
Pictures courtesy of Alexia Clonda