MIKAYLA Bowen has never felt out of place in the football world, and she's working to ensure others have the same experience.
The Geelong winger is also the inclusion and diversity coordinator at the club, and while her remit includes multicultural and all-abilities communities, she's always been naturally drawn to Pride.
"I think that's what really hit home for me, in terms of groups who are really under-represented in the community and don't necessarily get the attention of a generic community focus," Bowen told AFL.com.au.
"Those groups that appreciate every single piece of your effort that you put into them in terms of not necessarily having opportunities like this before.
"That's something I've really loved as part of the role, is being able to connect and see how much it means to these communities to have the Geelong football club reach out to them and welcomed to our colosseum, I would call it.
"I'm a proud member of the LGBTQI community myself, and I just feel like as a player in general, the AFLW competition and players have done so much in this space in such a short period of time, [while] acknowledging and recognising we still have such a long way to go.
"Especially for the Pride community, sport hasn't always been a place of comfort and welcome. It's just been incredible to touch base with the community in the lead-up to [Pride round] and do a lot of work with our Geelong pride community throughout the year.
"The first touchpoint we had with them, it was probably pretty nervous and probably pretty uncomfortable for them, but to see the transition and the comfort that's come from interacting and showing this community we want them here, we want them part of this game and this club."
Bowen, 22, is conscious the time in which she has grown up in has been more welcoming to those in the LGBTQI+ community than periods in the past. Women's football, prior to AFLW, was almost always a safe space, but less so the wider footy community.
"Not to take away from the work that's being done more broadly, but if anything, [football] was something that was a massive part of my journey and even being comfortable in accepting who I am," Bowen said.
"Before I played football, I probably wasn't comfortable, I hadn't even thought about it myself, in terms of identifying as bisexual. I hadn't even felt comfortable in coming out to my mum at that point.
"In a sense, I probably didn't really recognise or knew what was going on, I just felt that potentially those I went to school with didn't necessarily feel the same as I did.
"Starting at Swan Districts (in the WAFLW), it's who I saw, it was the norm, almost, and I didn't feel so abnormal in being who I was. It allowed me to love myself more, and grow such a passion and love for women's football.
"Football and AFLW for me is something that aided that for [me], rather than made it challenging.
"From a family sense, I'm extremely lucky and fortunate to have a family that I know will love me regardless, so it was never a case of feeling as though I couldn't come out to my mum, or tell my mum or my family and they wouldn't love me for it.
"That's why I feel even more passionate to have this as a platform, because I want everyone to feel that, and I know that hasn't been the case in the past."
Bowen and partner Liv Stewart made the move from Perth to Geelong 18 months ago after the speedster took up an opportunity with the Cats, following three seasons at West Coast.
Stewart played for Geelong's VFLW side this year, and the pair bought a house a few months ago.
"Often people talk about how incredible it is from my sense, making that big of a move, but I had a lot more certainty when it came to the club and the people and the environment," Bowen said.
"Whereas I give all credit to Liv for moving over here, because she didn't have much other than me at that point in time. Liv's the same as me, grew up in WA and absolutely loved it there.
"We've absolutely settled in, we've bought a house three or four months ago now, and have settled in not too far from the coast – coming from WA, that was something we really missed, but also treasure about living in Geelong and having that access to the beach."
Bowen knows not every sporting league has a dedicated Pride round, and encourages those who don't to embrace the individuality of players, noting that even on-field performance itself will improve if players are comfortable to be themselves.
"AFLW is such an incredible space for the LGBTQI community, the fans, the supporters and players, and [to] those who are potentially not comfortable to see what a world could be like, and how accepting, comfortable – at the end of the day, we're all people trying to enjoy a sport that we all love.
"It's irrelevant of race, identity, and nothing is taken away from AFLW because of the way the competition has embraced the Pride community and embraced Pride through the way it operates.
"I think if anything, it has enhanced the individuality, it's enhanced the love from the players' perspective.
"When it comes to sports around more worldwide, and potentially sports that aren't on this track, I hope that it would be an indication that there's nothing to be scared of, there's nothing to be fearful of, it's only ever going to enhance the comfort and the level at which people feel comfortable to be themselves."