Rugby league star Ian Roberts has slammed Newcastle councillor Allan Robinson for his public comments about homosexuals, saying the former Footy Show regular's words could push vulnerable young people "over the edge".
A livid Mr Roberts said Cr Robinson's repeated labelling of homosexuals as "poofs" was "sickening" at a time when gay suicide rates were far higher than the national average.
Cr Robinson has repeatedly used an inflammatory nickname for Newcastle's gay deputy lord mayor, Declan Clausen, in and out of the council chamber.
When asked about his behaviour by the Newcastle Herald last month, the ex-jockey said: "I have no problems with p--fs. I have one work for me and I'm very good friends with three p--fs who I'm proud to say they are my friends."
In a subsequent interview with The Guardian, Cr Robinson reportedly denied his remarks were offensive.
"Why should it be offensive?" he was quoted as saying. "If you're a f---ing poof, you're a poof."
It's sickening to hear, because there are kids struggling in their own houses, their own bedrooms. There are kids in the suburbs killing themselves.Ian Roberts
Cr Robinson and his three Independent colleagues on the council said in a later statement that they "do not endorse hate speech by anyone at anytime" but did not directly refer to Cr Robinson's comments.
Mr Roberts, whose partner is a long-time friend of Cr Clausen, came out as gay in 1995, towards the end of a high-profile career playing for Souths, Manly, NSW and Australia.
He told the Newcastle Herald that Cr Robinson's "blatantly homophobic" comments had "stopped me in my tracks".
"That someone would still think it was OK to call someone, 'You're a poof,' it kind of just blew me away," he said.
"It's sickening to hear, because there are kids struggling in their own houses, their own bedrooms. There are kids in the suburbs killing themselves.
"When you talk about the high rates of LGBTIQ suicide, does this f---ing idiot not get it?
"It's really damaging to young people who are still finding their own way and discovering themselves and their own feelings of self-worth. It can be damaging to the point of pushing someone over the edge."
The National LGBTI Health Alliance says 16 per cent of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people aged 16 to 27 report having attempted to commit suicide, five times the rate in the general population.
Cr Robinson said on Friday that he did not agree with Mr Roberts.
"My words weren't bad enough to send someone over the edge. I don't agree with that," he said.
Mr Roberts said he believed Cr Robinson did not think his language was homophobic.
"I mean, I get that old ocker banter that he goes on with," he said.
"I grew up with it, too. I get it, but just because I get it doesn't mean I have to tolerate it any more. I don't have to accept it.
"That was from a time when LGBTI youth suicides were even higher than what they are today.
"We're not living back in the sixties and the seventies and the early eighties any more.
"I get that he thinks it's OK, but that's his problem. It shouldn't be tolerated, particularly in positions of power."
Mr Roberts' partner, Daniel, grew up in Newcastle, and the couple are regular visitors and own property in the city.
The Souths legend said he thought Newcastle had become far more tolerant since he started playing for Souths against the Knights in the 1980s.
"Although I wasn't out publicly, it was the worst-kept secret in the game that I was gay.
"I had a partner back in 1987 when I was playing for Souths who lived in Newcastle, so we used to go to the [gay] pubs up there.
"In Newcastle I used to feel, and maybe it was my own awkwardness with my own sexuality, a bit threatened all the time, or potentially threatened, but now Newcastle is so progressive."
He said Cr Robinson's attitude damaged the city's reputation.
"This only reflects badly on Newcastle as a progressive city, or actually non-progressive is probably the better term."
Cr Robinson also came under fire last month after he said during a debate with several female councillors that "some people have got more hide than Jessie the elephant and look like that".
Mr Roberts believed Cr Robinson was "playing to a base" which railed against political correctness.
"But freedom of speech comes with consequences, and these are the worst type of consequences, and he just doesn't get it," he said.
Cr Robinson was the subject of an internal council investigation after he referred to former councillor Stephanie Posniak as "beefcake" in 2015.
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