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This gay rugby team is changing hearts and minds every day

The Birmingham Bulls, an inclusive rugby club in England, are beating teams on the pitch and sharing beers with them afterwards.

The Birmingham Bulls continue to change hearts and minds on the rugby pitch.
BBC Sport

“We don’t want to lose to a bunch of puffs.”

It’s an insult the Birmingham Bulls hear on the pitch before they play some other rugby clubs. Then they start beating them.

The Birmingham Bulls are an inclusive rugby club in England entering their 10th season. On a recent edition of the BBC’s “LGBT Sport” podcast, club chairman David Cumpston spoke about the team’s evolution and acceptance within the rugby community. He says the best way to combat homophobia on the field is to just play like everybody else.

“Where we did find a little bit (of pushback) was, ‘We don’t want to lose to a bunch of puffs,’” he said. “Those sorts of comments in that vain. But then we started beating them, and there’s that realization, ‘We are just another rugby club.’ We just happen to be majority gay. It doesn’t really matter.”

Next April, the Bulls are slated to host the Union Cup, the European inclusive rugby tournament of International Gay Rugby. All week long on Outsports, we’ve been highlighting the lives and perspectives of trans people in rugby, in partnership with IGR. Our series is in response to World Rugby’s proposed trans ban, which was leaked earlier this summer to the Guardian.

Alistair Burford, the tournament director, says it’s been rewarding to mentalities change in real time. “The nice things about those games is, on the pitch I’m a different person, but afterwards it was going for a drink with them, and changing their perceptions of what gay rugby is and how gay people can play rugby and actually just challenging them on things,” he explained. “That’s the bit I’ve enjoyed the most.”

The Bulls expect to welcome as many as 60 teams from 18 different countries when they host the tournament. While Covid-19 has made planning more difficult, Burford says he’s determined to make the event happen, assuming it is safe to play. It would be an incredible opportunity to bring players together from all over the world and spread the message that rugby is for everyone.

“We are in 2019 and 2020, and people still are using that language, and they don’t realize how offensive that language is,” Cumpston said. “There’s no education, and that’s our clubs are here for: that education, and changing people’s mindsets and minds about what gay guys and women and trans people are all about. When we play rugby, we’re just rugby players.”