Harlequins pride event

‘Rugby is for everyone’: Harlequins host LGBTQ+ Pride panel as club aims to promote inclusivity

Three weeks ago a video of Joe Marchant and his Harlequins teammates jumping around their changing room, singing ‘It’s Raining Men’ before their Big Game clash against Exeter did the viral rounds online. 

Rugby has built a reputation as an aggressive, masculine sport, but such freedom of expression shows Quins are creating an environment where its players are confident to be themselves.

This was the sentiment at the heart of a LGBTQ+ panel event hosted by Harlequins on Wednesday evening. The event was held at London Pride’s Griffin Brewery in Chiswick and featured two discussions about diversity and inclusion both in rugby and the workplace.

England international Marchant and Scottish international lock Sarah Bonar joined Harlequins CEO Laurie Dalrymple on the first panel, hosted by sports commentator and LGBTQ+ journalist Nick Heath.

Spokespeople from the club’s various partners, including DHL and Charles Stanley, then lined-up alongside Heath for the second panel to discuss best practice in the workplace.  

Credit: JMP

Quins are the only Premiership club with dedicated ‘Pride’ fixtures in their calendar this year. Their upcoming showdowns with Newcastle on the men’s side and Wasps on the women’s, are LGBTQ+ themed and aim to shine a spotlight on the issues many queer communities encounter when trying to feel welcome in sporting spaces.

Despite these strides forward, there are currently no openly gay rugby players in the Gallagher Premiership, and worldwide players like New Zealand’s Campbell Johnstone usually wait until their careers are over to let their sexuality be known.

“A lot of it is awareness and making an environment where everyone can feel comfortable and like they can be themselves,” Marchant said after the event.

“I didn’t really think anything of [dancing around the changing room],” he added. “We were prepping for a game and that was just me expressing myself and feeling comfortable in the changing rooms, in an environment with my peers.

“I think the benefits of creating that space is one of the big takeaways from tonight’s event.”

Credit: JMP

Bonar shared her experience of inclusion in the women’s game where attitudes towards sexuality are very relaxed and clubs face the opposite challenge when recruiting players. There is often an assumption that women’s rugby players are gay.

“It’s about promoting that rugby is for everyone,” she said. “Yes women’s rugby is an incredibly inclusive place where people are gay, bisexual and so on, but equally it’s an inclusive place for straight people as well.

“Rugby isn’t going to turn you, it’s actually just a sport where you are in a very open environment.”

Host Heath is an openly gay man and shared his views on what inclusion means in rugby and wider society.

“For me it means considering everyone,” he said. “What can you do to make the life of the person next to you better? In many cases that’s often only a little.

“I actually think that if a professional rugby player came out tomorrow there wouldn’t be much issue at all. I think everybody understands where we should be in 2023. The opportunity is there for people to be themselves.

“The game is naturally for all shapes and sizes, particularly at the grassroots level, and the reason you have a drink at the bar afterwards, whether you’re the bloke that won the scrum or the girl that scored the try, is that you know each of you have done your job that day.

“I think there’s an element of acceptance about who we each are within that environment that has always had rugby on a slightly better footing than other sports. There has to be an acknowledgement of, well we’re not the same but I totally value what you do and who you are.”

Featured image credit: JMP

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