Simon Dunn: How late gay rugby player bravely fought against homophobia before his tragic death

Simon Dunn

Simon Dunn, Australia’s first openly gay bobsledder, has been described as an “impassioned optimist” who worked tirelessly for charity, after he died at the age of 35.

The athlete was known for taking part in both bobsled and playing rugby, as well as his work for charitable organisations, including the Terrence Higgins Trust

As a bobsledder, Dunn performed as the brakeman for Lucas Mata.

After retiring from the sport in 2016, he took up rugby, playing for all-gay team, the Sydney Convicts, as well as the British gay-inclusive team the Kings Cross Steelers while living in London.

He made a return to bobsled in 2021 in an attempt to qualify for the Winter Olympics in 2022, but was forced to withdraw due to injury. 

Aside from his athletic achievements, Dunn dedicated his time to raising money and awareness for LGBTQ+ causes, becoming a regular contributor to magazines such as Attitude and Gay Times, where he spoke out about his own horrific experiences of homophobia, and the need for LGBTQ+ representation in sport.

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In an article for Gay Times, Dunn claimed he would continue championing all-gay teams “until I can comfortably say homophobia in sport is all but a distant memory”.

Among several charitable pursuits, he made headlines for setting up a fundraiser for LGBTQ+ youth after fellow rugby star Israel Folau was sacked by Rugby Australia in 2019 for making homophobic comments.

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Dunn’s efforts raised more than $11,000 AUD (about £6,200).  

The Sydney Convicts paid tribute to Dunn on its website, touching on both his athletic skill and his dedication to the LGBTQ+ community.

“His talents extended well off the rugby field, and we know Simon made a positive impact through is work in the community, often speaking publicly about the challenges faced by LGBTIQA+ people in sport,” the team’s statement said.

“We are devastated by the loss to our club and community, and share our deepest condolences with Simon’s family, friends and those who Simon brought love to over the years.”

His management added that he was “passionate about giving back to the community and volunteering”.

Australian gymnast Heath Thorpe led the tributes to Dunn on Twitter after his death on Saturday (21 January), saying the bobsledder had “inspired and changed people’s time on Earth for the better”.

Thorpe added: “We spent the early and first hours of 2023 together drinking wine, sharing stories and laughter on your couch with your friends and discussing our ambitions and plans for the year ahead… it cuts so deeply to know that you had so much more to give to this world and to those around you.

“You will be deeply missed and there is a hole today in many hearts that will take a long time to begin to heal.”

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The gymnast added that Dunn’s “honourable” work with the LGBTQ+ community will leave a “legacy for many years to come”.

Thorpe went on later to say: “I’ve said enough words for today but damn… my heart hurts in ways that words can’t describe.”

HIV charity the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation, for which Simon was an ambassador, described him as a “selfless, compassionate and kind individual who treated everyone equally, stood up for marginalised and vulnerable people and called out injustice.”

The statement continued: “He was a passionate advocate for LGBTQIA+ representation in sport, speaking about his experiences of homophobia in his younger years.

“He was determined to make a positive change in sporting culture throughout the world and his tireless efforts to promote inclusion and equality in sport will continue to inspire future generations.”

Police are reportedly not treating Dunn’s death as suspicious.

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