Breaking down LGBT barriers in sports
Gary Lynch and Ciarán Fagan chat to SpunOut.ie about their involvement with LGBT-friendly sports clubs.
"The social side is great, it’s a really good way to engage with the LGBT community outside the usual drinking scene."
Think of sports, and people usually associate the term with a macho environment- culturally conservative, and reserved for a stereotypical preconception of the ‘traditional’ athlete.
However, just like the rest of the world, the complexion of the world’s most popular sports is continually changing to reflect society. For a very long time, homophobic prejudices meant that people of a non-heterosexual orientation were actively discouraged from taking part in certain sports.
But the visage of ex-Aston Villa midfielder and former Germany international Thomas Hitzelsperger coming out after his retirement from football served as an indication of the attitudinal changes taking place in the sporting world.
The increasing numbers of grassroots LGBT-friendly sports teams springing up across Ireland and Britain also serves to demonstrate that point. In 2003, the Emerald Warriors rugby team became Dublin’s first openly LGBT-inclusive side to take part in competition. Although membership is open to anyone, the club is known for promoting tolerance towards players coming from an LGBT background.
Gary Lynch has been playing with the Warriors for the last two years. At just 20 years of age, he’s already risen to the rank of team captain. Having played rugby since the age of seven, Gary jumped at the opportunity to play for the Sutton-based club, even though he lives on the other side of the city in Templeogue.
“The Warriors seemed like a good way to dispel the stigma that persists around LGBT people playing sport. Even just the fact that there’s a team specifically aimed at being inclusive, not just of gay men but of everyone, I thought that was such a great idea to get people involved in the sport,” says Trinity student Gary, who had played for local side St Mary’s before switching to the Warriors.
In Gary’s experience, other teams have usually been very accepting of and receptive towards the idea of an LGBT rugby team. A fellow sportsman from a young age, Ciarán Fagan from the Dublin Devils- the city’s foremost LGBT soccer club- and his teammates have had a few run-ins with homophobic taunting, but it’s not something that fazes them.
“Sometimes you play against teams who are lovely, and then sometimes you play against other teams and they’d call you everything under the sun. But it would only be one or two players, and then the other eight or nine would give out to them and ask them ‘what are you at?’,” says Ciarán, who travels from Donabate in north county Dublin to take part in the Devils’ training sessions in the Phoenix Park.
Of course, it’s not just all about the sport. For Gary Lynch, being involved with the Warriors provides him with a social outlet that doesn’t require going out on the lash in order to meet people and make new mates.
“The social side is great, it’s a really good way to engage with the LGBT community outside the usual drinking scene. You meet loads of people, there’s a really good buzz around trainings, and we’ve got loads of social events running through the year,” says Gary, whose team regularly links up with other teams like the Dublin Devils to organise such events.
From a personal perspective, Ciarán found that his involvement with the Devils also helped with the process of coming out.
“I felt kind of uncomfortable playing with a straight team in case anybody found out you were gay, and it was a way to bring me out as well. I went through BeLonGTo, and that made me a bit more confident and helped me to make friends too,” says Ciarán, a point that Gary is in wholehearted agreement with.
“When you have a really good group of friends and teammates around you who are very open, it opens up possibilities where people feel a lot more comfortable letting other people know,” says Gary.
“And it’s an easier way to come out, rather than saying ‘I’m gay’, saying ‘I play for the gay rugby or football team’. A part of the point of the club is to make gay people more visible in sport, so that people in other clubs feel more comfortable coming out to their team, or joining teams.”