Model and former Rugby League player Casey Conway reflects on being a role model and what it means to inspire someone.
In recent times, since sharing my coming out story, I have been referred to, by some, as a role model – not only for Indigenous young people, but also for LGBTI young people. I’ve never stopped to think what that actually means, to me and to those around me. I feel privileged to be seen this way and appreciate the responsibility that comes with it. I am proud to be a gay man but I haven’t always felt this way.
It’s no secret that having a role model, both as a child and an adult, can have a lasting positive impact that can influence the direction of a person’s life. As humans, we are always looking around us for inspiration, guidance and direction in making decisions regarding the things that shape who we are and ultimately, our happiness.
Role models can be anyone: family members, friends, colleagues, sports people and media personalities, to name a few. Depending on our circumstances, it may not always be easy to identify people that we can relate to. This was the case for me as a young Aboriginal boy growing up in the country. I struggled to define my thoughts and emotions as normal. I know they are now, but for years my mental health suffered due to feelings of confusion and isolation. I feel like this may have been different if I had had someone that I felt understood the things I was experiencing.
Society has progressed immensely since I was a young man coming to terms with my sexuality and it’s great that there are many visible role models whom certain young people can relate to. It’s great to see the likes of Troy Sivan, Ruby Rose, Matt Mitcham and Penny Wong stand tall and proudly fight for the recognition and inclusion of everyone in our diverse LGBTI community.
I often get asked about people who inspire me to live my best life and I enjoy sharing my role models with them. They are amazing people committed to making life better for LGBTI people, and include: Dameyon Bonson (founder of Black Rainbow), Ian Thorpe (Australian sporting icon), Magda Szubanski (actor and LGBTI activist) and Christine Anu (national treasure and LGBTI ally).
The most important message for me is that we should all recognise our potential to be a role model to those around us. We should not only respect each other’s differences, but celebrate them too. Sharing your story might be the thing that will inspire someone to live authentically; knowing that another person has walked their path before them. It’s a challenge we must set ourselves because there are so many people out there who need to hear that it’s OK to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex.