This is how LGBT-inclusive sport can change lives
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This is how LGBT-inclusive sport can change lives

Hear from athletes, coaches and sports fans about how LGBT-inclusive sport can change lives.

Nic Bullen, she/her, Liverpool FC supporter

Smiling woman with a Liverpool Football Club cap

As a lifelong Liverpool supporter, the Rainbow Laces campaign has always signified the joining of two of the most important elements of my identity. Liverpool FC has made huge strides in the last couple of years: with the LGBT fan group KopOuts, becoming a Stonewall Diversity Champion, taking part in Liverpool Pride and producing their own Pride range (as pictured).

My Liverpool supporting self and my LGBT self have never been more closely aligned.

My Liverpool supporting self and my LGBT self have never been more closely aligned. While there is still a way to go, I've never been more authentically myself at the match and in Liverpool-supporting circles. I'm proud to be bi and proud to be a Red.

Spencer Bundschuh, he/him, freestyle and big mountain skier/coach

Man standing looking down at the Mountain and its snow

For me, the mountain represents the freedom to live in a moment outside of the pressures of everyday life, to be unrestricted, to go where I want to go, and to exist in an instant that’s fleeting yet feels like an eternity.

Skiing has provided a haven on my worst days, allowing me to compete against an unbeatable opponent, to get lost in that competition, and to be met only by the sound of crunching snow and whistling winds. The mountain doesn’t judge, it doesn’t care who you are or what your background is; it only asks for respect and in turn gives it back.

The mountain doesn’t judge.

Among the myriad of things that Rainbow Laces represents to me, most important is that all LGBT people are able to participate freely in the activity that they live and breathe for, without judgement or harassment; to compete against their mountain, and triumph.

Molly Byrne, she/her, rugby player, Shelford RFC

Woman standing with a rugby ball

Playing what is considered a ‘masculine’ sport as a woman, people have always made assumptions about my sexuality.

But, while my first girlfriend was a teammate, rugby has always been more important to me in terms of my gender. Through rugby we could express ourselves as tough, strong, and built; having people in different shapes and sizes was valued. We could assign importance to our bodies outside of the (straight, cis) male gaze – that’s something that feels revolutionary and it’s something you find in queer spaces, too.

When I did come out as bi, it was with my rugby team that I felt most comfortable.

When I did come out as bi, it was with my rugby team that I felt most comfortable – it was like a ready-made queer support group. For me, sport and being queer have always been inextricably linked, and Rainbow Laces is a subtle but important way I can express this part of my identity.

Robbie de Santos, he/him, cycling, Hub Vélo CC, Hackney

Man on bike in a wet car park

Cycling makes me so happy. I love to get out onto the open roads, watch the landscape unfold, and push myself to go further, faster, and to climb higher. I love being part of Hub Vélo CC; it’s a great community.

I make an effort to be a visible LGBT role model within the club.

There aren’t many high-profile, openly LGBT people in cycling, so I make an effort to be a visible LGBT role model within the club, and to play my part in making it inclusive for all people who are underrepresented in cycling.

Sarah Hagger-Holt, she/her, runner and volunteer

The back of a woman and the back of a child on a trail walk

Last year, when I turned 40, I decided to learn something new. My partner has always enjoyed running – she’s currently training for a marathon – but I could barely run for the bus. I gradually learnt to run using a 0-5k app, totally disbelieving that I would ever be capable of running a whole five kilometres.

Park Run helps me feel part of my local community

The first time I did Park Run, I finally felt like a runner, albeit a slow and red-faced one. Now, running by myself gives me time to think, and running – or volunteering – with others as part of Park Run helps me feel part of my local community.

Joey Knock, he/him, London Frontrunners (London’s LGBT+ running club)

Man running at the front of a face

Every week I go for a casual run around Hyde Park with London Frontrunners. Whether I’m chatting to someone while I run or not, I always have a sense of solidarity and support with everyone else running on the day.

I love looking up at the trees and the view across London as I run round the park. It’s a moment to pause my day, my thoughts, the hatred in the world. I can look somewhere else, breathe in, and be. It still makes me smile anytime I see a runner wearing Rainbow Laces, in the club and at races. It shows me I’ll be safe and don’t need to edit what I say to them.

Joining the club has improved my running and I’ve made amazing new friends.

Joining the club has improved my running and I’ve made amazing new friends. I don’t need to worry about who I am when I’m with them. I’m Joey, I’m a Frontrunner, and I know I’m included.

Antonia Lines, she/her, football player and supporter

Legs on football in shoes with rainbow laces

I played football with the boys until I was 12 but then we were told we couldn’t play anymore – the club I played for didn’t have funding for us, or a pitch. They gave my dad some white gloss paint and told him to paint us a pitch elsewhere, so him and one of the other dads found a patch of grass that belonged to a school and they painted us a seven-a-side pitch.

We played friendlies for a season until we were able to join a league – we lost every week but we had the best time, and I then played for various clubs until I was about 17.

I’ve fallen back in love with Leeds United and I’m very happy about it.

I’m a Leeds fan, which hasn’t always felt the most inclusive. Since I stopped playing I also stopped following Leeds so much, but two years ago I started working at Stonewall and met other LGBT people who loved football and got back into it a bit. Then last year Leeds United set up a LGBT supporters club and I joined straight away – since then I’ve fallen back in love with Leeds United and I’m very happy about it!

Molly Maher, runner

Person running in a race

I didn’t consider myself a sporty person in school – I hid in bushes to smoke during cross-country! Only when I was 21 did I start running for my mental health. I haven’t stopped since, and it’s been so beneficial for every part of my life. No matter how I’m feeling or what’s going on, I know I can get out and run, and set myself new (and usually overambitious) goals!

The loving and supportive atmosphere at a race is unbeatable.

In 2020 I’m going to run my first marathon – it’s a trail run in Ireland, so it’s going to be a whole new and exciting challenge. I’ve used races to fundraise for charities like Rise and Survivors’ Network because they’re LGBT-inclusive services close to my heart and they’ve been vocal about trans inclusion in their sector. The loving and supportive atmosphere at a race is unbeatable – I’m so glad I threw myself into it.

Kirrin Medcalf, they/them/he/him, dog agility

Person with dog on hill with a sunset in the sky

I’ve been competing in dog agility since I was 11. With my life savings (not very much when you’re a pre-teen) I bought my dog Holly, a Sheltie, and we learnt the sport together. Holly was a twice-rejected show dog and hearing dog. Third time lucky we found each other and found a sport we loved doing. We won the under 18s agility competition at Crufts, and I later reached championship level with Pixie, my sister’s dog.

Having a hobby where I could be successful at something, be outside away from home and school, and the deep connection forged with my dog Holly, genuinely saved my life as a teenager. When I came out in my late teens though, it was tough within the agility world. In some ways I was lucky – it is a sport that isn’t divided by gender so I was still allowed to compete. However, the regulating bodies have no rules around equality and diversity.

I was bullied online and in person by adults who I had known since I was a child, who purposefully misgendered me, said I didn’t belong in the sport, and said I was going against God (among other things). For a long time I didn’t feel safe at competitions. I stopped competing, coaching agility, and stopped volunteering as a judge and ring party. It changed the direction my life was going in significantly.

I hope that with campaigns like Rainbow Laces, sports will be safe for LGBT people.

I now dabble occasionally in the sport, and one day aim to get back into it fully – my dream is to get onto the British team for the world championships. I’ve also have made friends with other LGBT people in the sport, which helps. I hope that with campaigns like Rainbow Laces, sports will be safe for LGBT people. I hope that the next generation can go on and achieve their dreams with the same opportunities and support as their cis, straight peers.

Sam Mills (aka 'Josie Doe'), she/her, roller derby player

Woman sitting on stairs tying up roller skates with rainbow laces

I’ve been playing roller derby for three years now, and it’s amazing to be involved in such an inclusive sport. Anyone can just turn up as themselves, regardless of age, size, experience, confidence or anything else! Although I play for a women’s team, there are also plenty of teams that are open to everyone.

It’s such an empowering sport for women.

It’s fantastic to be part of a sport that’s still growing, is so open to doing things in a new way, and is always working to become even more inclusive. It’s such an empowering sport for women, because that’s where it started – as a grassroots activity. It’s the opportunity to play a high-energy, full-contact sport where we’re making it work for us. The sense of community is something that keeps roller derby going – leagues in the UK and across the world are run by the players, for the players.

Zahra Sarwar, she/her, cheerleader

Fitness and sports have always been a huge part of my life and were key in helping me protect my mental health and well-being. Taking part in competitions as a team member meant I always had a support system. However, being the only openly bi member of the team was incredibly testing and difficult.

Every person on every team should feel as though they belong there.

I was a cheerleader up until the point at which my sexuality began to come together with my identity as a cheerleader, which is why the Rainbow Laces campaign is so vital to ensure sport is available to everyone. Every person on every team should feel as though they belong there.

Erin Walters-Williams, she/her, lacrosse player and coach, Wales Lacrosse

Woman with a lacrosse stick

I’ve been very lucky to find a home in the friendship of team sport. In a world which is still very much not a safe space for queer people, lacrosse has given me a safe environment where I can express myself physically and support my friends in a common goal.

Lacrosse has provided me with an outlet for growth.

It hasn't always been easy – I struggled monumentally off the pitch, and my mental health hit horrible lows. But the first people I came out to were teammates. They supported me the same way we supported each other on the pitch: with loyalty and a lot of laughter. Through this, lacrosse has provided me with an outlet for growth. It has shown me how to work hard and constructively handle adversity, and has given me happiness and purpose. When I couldn't find family elsewhere, my lacrosse family stepped in.

I'm very aware of the privilege I’ve had to have such a positive experience with sport. So many LGBT people are left out of sport and don’t get the benefits of community support. I firmly believe such benefits should be available to everyone, and I love that Rainbow Laces visibly works to make sport a truly positive force for people.

Lizzie Williams, she/her, wheelchair-racing athlete

Person in a racing chair

I've been in sports my entire life, but I only got into a racing chair for the first time about four or five years ago. I've always loved to go fast in my day chair and I was forever being told to slow down when I whizzed around at school, so I guess I have always had a need for speed!

My experience with racing began when I was volunteering at a youth disability sport event. I met this young kid who noted my athletic physique and was telling me all about his sport – wheelchair racing. I had just come out of a sport, having literally been bullied out of it, and here was this kid inviting me to come to training and try it out. I saw it as an opportunity, and I told myself there was nothing lost if I just gave it a shot.

I was buzzing to compete again.

I headed down to the track later that week and I loved it. The coach saw real potential in me. A few weeks later I had entered my first two races, which were mile-long races on the streets of London, and I came second in both! I was really happy with how quickly I adapted to the sport, and excited for what could happen if I dedicated more time to training. I was buzzing to compete again.

Since then, I've dedicated my life to training full time, and I want to achieve the greatest honour of representing my country at a Paralympic Games. I've got faster and faster each season, and this year I've closed the season out being the fastest person in my classification – T54 in Britain in the 200m. I'm also ranked British second and third in the 100m, 400m and 800m this year.

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