The chairman of a gay, bisexual, transgender and queer inclusive men’s rugby team in England reportedly isn’t rolling over when it comes to bullying and online insults directed at his club and its members.
“Why do we need safe spaces like this?” said David Eldridge, chairman of Hull Roundheads. “Many of our players didn’t feel safe or confident in sports precisely because of the homophobic culture — which often passes itself as laddish ‘banter’ — that plagued the Facebook comments.”
The Hull Daily Mail reports the hate appeared on the club’s page last week after it shared photos of its new uniforms, or “kits” as they’re called in the UK.
“Sadly the derogatory comments on the Hull Live feed only prove that there is a long way to go in this city,” said the chairman.
Hull is east of Leeds, about 200 miles north of London. Local fans countered the homophobic comments with messages of support.
“All of the team members are awesome, a family and amazing individuals, some of the most caring, genuine young men I have ever met!” posted Lizzy James-Hirst. “The disgusting, vile comments are the exact reason teams like this are needed.”
“All these comments are actually disgusting and are the reason these rugby players feel they have to have their own team so they can feel safe to enjoy playing their game without fear of all the ‘gay’ comments,” added Josie Douthwaite.
“We are hugely touched by the good wishes that have followed from the coverage of our recent kit launch and by the vigorous support and thoughtful statements generated on our behalf against some of the more derogatory and homophobic comments that the story unhappily prompted,” Eldridge said.
The Roundheads made history in August 2018 by becoming the British city’s first gay and inclusive sports club. Eldridge said they welcome players regardless of their sexuality or gender identification, and their advertising reflects that.
“Even in what commentators referred to as ‘straight’ clubs that are welcoming,” Eldridge explained, “being ‘inclusive’ often means expecting LGBTQ+ players to ‘fit in’ with an existing culture, rather than creating a new culture where everyone can openly be themselves. The recent censure of Israel Folau and the vicious assault on Gareth Thomas last November shows there is still a way to go.”
Eldridge told the Hull Daily Mail many LGBTQ people have “negative perceptions and experiences of sport” because of bullying in school athletics, at local pubs and seeing anti-LGBTQ comments on social media:
“Some of our players have played before, but typically weren’t out at school or in their previous teams, because the environment wasn’t supportive or welcoming to bi, gay or queer individuals.
“Many others felt excluded from sports from an early age, because the culture surrounding it was so determinedly hetero-normative, sexist, and laddish.
“Trans players have been expressly excluded and compelled to leave teams. Nationally, fewer than one in five members of the LGBTQ+ community are members of a sports team.
“And of those who do play, 84 per cent report experiencing homophobic insults while participating in sports.
“Most of our members would never have considered joining a sports team until something like the Roundheads came along — and that’s truly transformative.”
Eldridge said the Roundheads club now has 50 members and plans to send a team to the International Gay Rugby World Cup next year.