Rugby: Why the world’s roughest sport is also the most gay-friendly


If you’re looking for a stereotypical macho sport, you don’t have to search further than rugby. A full-contact sport — without much protection — it’s got everything: brutal tackling. Dirt and mud. Plenty of parties.

But here’s the interesting thing: Those post-game festivities include both teams. Players sing bawdy songs — but with plenty of mutual admiration. Winners and losers gather together, showing respect on both sides.

That respect for opponents — for everyone in the rugby world, really — is one reason that the sport is so gay-friendly. Referee Nigel Owens came out in 2007, nearly a decade ago. Player Gareth Thomas came out in 2009; he was soon voted the most influential gay person in the U.K. There are other gay professional ruggers too.

The first gay rugby team — London’s Kings Cross Steelers — was founded 25 years ago. Today, there are more than two dozen gay rugby clubs. Some are in places you’d expect. Others might surprise you.

The Nashville Grizzlies were formed in 2006. In the decade since, spokesman Thomas Hormby says they’ve been treated well by every straight team they’ve met — even those from rural Tennessee and Alabama. “We talk a lot about brotherhood on the pitch,” he says. “We’ve always been embraced by our brothers, no matter what their views are off it.”

So it should not come as a surprise that USA Rugby — the sport’s national governing body — has taken a lead in the fight against homophobia. Last month the organization signed a “memorandum of understanding” with International Gay Rugby, formalizing a partnership to promote a diverse, inclusive environment at all levels of the game.

The announcement follows a similar agreement in March. At that time, IGR said it would collaborate with World Rugby on “the promotion of equality and inclusivity” around the globe.

The agreement with USA Rugby specifically ensures that American players are provided with the tools and education necessary to combat discrimination, whether based on sexual orientation, perceived sexual orientation or identification.

“USA Rugby recognizes the right of any player, official, coach and spectator to be involved in rugby without bullying, discrimination or exclusion of any kind, and celebrates the differences that make its members unique,” the official statement said.

International Gay Rugby is one of the most active LGBT sports associations on the planet. Its 56 members clubs in 15 countries receive developmental support and resources. IGR clubs play each other (and straight clubs), and host regional, continental and global tournaments and events celebrating diversity and inclusion in the rugby community.

The flagship event is the Mark Kendall Bingham Memorial Tournament. Named after the gay rugby player who was a passenger on United Airlines Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001 — and who helped lead the resistance against the hijackers that crashed the plane in Pennsylvania, before it could be flown into the Capitol or White House — the next competition is set for May 22–29, 2016. There will be 1,500 players, on 45 teams. The tourney will be played in Nashville — the first time ever in the Mid-South, and the first time since 2010 it has been held in the U.S. The Grizzlies are hosts.

The upcoming tournament marks nearly 15 years since Mark Bingham’s heroism. At the time, the idea of a gay rugby player was novel. But as the world realized what transpired on board the plane that horrific morning, one athlete’s sexuality seemed far less important than the sense of purpose — and teamwork — of all the passengers who stormed the cockpit.

That camaraderie seems to be an important aspect of what makes rugby such an appealing sport to all who play it — gay and straight.

But just because the Grizzlies’ experience has been so positive — and even though both USA Rugby and World Rugby are committed to inclusion and diversity — work remains to be done.

There are still pitches where anti-gay slurs are used. Some ruggers still resent gay athletes. That’s why the official statements from governing bodies — and the educational efforts that follow — are so important.

The anti-discrimination policies are also intended to encourage straight players to step up as LGBT allies. They won’t be the first. The coming-out announcements of gay players so far have been met with strong support from teammates, as well as opponents.

Of course, Hormby notes, plenty of gay rugby athletes have not yet come out. “We want to make our environment safe for everyone,” he says. “We want this to be the most inclusive sport in the world.”

So don’t be surprised when you hear stories about rugby — one of the most macho sports in the world — embracing its gay side. Who knows? There may soon be a post-game drinking song about it too.

—Dan Woog

Editor’s note: North Texas fields two gay rugby teams. They are the Dallas Diablos and the Lost Souls.


—  Arnold Wayne Jones

7 pretty queer (and mostly naked) calendars for 2014

Calendar2014 is almost here and that can mean only one thing: Time to buy a new calendar. And if you’re going to plunk down your hard-earned cash for a new calendar, shouldn’t it be one that’s mostly queer, mostly naked or some combo of the two?

Click on The Huffington Post link to see samples of the calendars.

—  Steve Ramos

Eye candy of the day: Ben Cohen

Just in time for our summer sports edition, a little treat for fans of gay-friendly rugby star Ben Cohen, from the photoshoot for his new calendar. I’ve met Cohen; he really is as dreamy as he appears. Sigh. And check out our stories about a local gay Olympic torchbearer, a new gay basketball league & more.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Pro hockey players make sport gay-inclusive

The British rugby star Ben Cohen, pictured, has been the most public straight sports superstar to show support for the gay community and end bullying and homophobia in sports. But even Cohen had retired before he dedicated himself to the cause, and he is European. Which might make the You Can Play project a first: active American and Canadian ice hockey players making public service announcements in support of gay inclusion in sports.

The project was inspired after NHL general manager Patrick Burke’s brother came out as gay. When he was killed in a 2010 accident, Burke (now at the Toronto Maple Leafs) co-founded the project, which has as its mission creating a homophobia-free environment to allow gay players to know their straight teammates will accept them.

You can see some of the videos here.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

28th Annual Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade today

It only gets better

That’s this year’s theme of the Pride parade which features Honorary Grand Marshal, Fort Worth city councilman Joel Burns and VIP guest, rugby star Ben Cohen. The parade is followed by the festival at Lee Park featuring live music and speakers. And it’s looking like the perfect day for a parade. Happy Pride.

DEETS: Parade starts at 2 p.m. $5 for festival. For details, click here.

—  Rich Lopez

Dallas Diablos vs. DFW Sisters in kickball for charity

Angels vs. Demons

What do the rough-and-tumble Diablos and the ever-so-spiritual Sisters have in common? The Diablos, who play one of the roughest team sports, compete in the not-gay Texas Rugby Union and participate in the International Gay Rugby Association. Part of their mission is to forge friendships and celebrate differences.

And nothing in Dallas could be more different than The DFW Sisters, a mission of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. But that group is also dedicated to respecting diversity. And both groups include fundraising for community organizations as part of their core mission.

So what else could the Diablos do but accept the challenge when The Sisters invited them to play a game of kickball for charity?

“What a fun and zany way to raise money for Legacy,” said Legacy Executive Director Melissa Grove. “I applaud their ability to create a new and fresh event. I’ve been doing this a long time and this is the first time I’ve seen anything like this.”

DEETS: Kickball at Field No. 1, Glencoe Park, 5300 Martel Ave. Sept. 11 at 2 p.m. $5.

—  Rich Lopez

Dieux du Stade 2011 Rugby Videos

LES DIEUX DE STADE X390 (STADE.FR) | ADVOCATE.COMThe men of the French rugby club Stade Francais are back with the 2011
Dieux du Stade calendar. The photos are always a
big sell, but the behind the scenes videos are where all the action
really takes place. Watch here. Daily News

—  admin

SF Fog Rugby Club – It Gets Better

Joe. My. God.

—  admin

Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas comes out

Saturday  the Guardian reported Cardiff Blues player Gareth Thomas officially came out of the closet and is the first professional player to do so while still active. It was a decision based on both emotional turmoil and good will. “It’s been really tough for me, hiding who I really am and I don’t want it to be like that for the next young person who wants to play rugby or some frightened young kid,” he said.

His ex-wife talked about Thomas with the Daily Mail.

I asked Jonn Thurman, the outgoing captain of the Dallas Diablos (our very own gay rugby team), his thoughts and he had this to say.

“Good for him. I was surprised what he went through while he was hiding his sexuality. It is reassuring to see he and his ex have remained friends. Unfortunately, like several others in the sporting world, they feel they have to hide their true selves and become “one of the boys”. Having to hide yourself for fear of retaliation or loss of being able to play a sport that you love is a huge burden to bear and far too common in the world of sports. Thankfully with the increasing numbers of prominently gay, but inclusive clubs, such as the Dallas Diablos and other rugby clubs from all over the world, we can come together and play the sport so many of us have grown to love. If only professional sports clubs can catch up and see the stigma against gay sports players in nothing to fear. Gay or not, we are all ‘just one of the boys.'”

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—  Rich Lopez