Twelve months ago reports came to the fore of homophobic chants directed at Crusaders player Gareth Thomas at the start of his Rugby League career.comments such as 'Thomas you're gay' were herd as the teams warmed up, then during the game things escalated to 'Thomas takes it up the arse' sung by reportedly a few hundred Castleford fans in the ground that day.
Thomas himself herd what was sung and stated the following "The crowed at that end shouted obscene things,it hurt what they sung, and that they wouldn't confront me one on one, they did it in their 100's / 1000's."
Thankfully the RLF (who had been for a few years working towards a strategy for dealing with this hatred within RL) took action and investigated and handed out a heavy fine (reduced at a later date) to Castleford for misconduct of a section of their fans.In return the club to be fair also held their own search for the culprits and and picked out a few who were delt with accordingly.There was however a knock on effect from all of this (something that is also all too common on football and other sports) when the abuse was continued on fans forums and message boards, by many bigots from the comfort and safety of their computer keyboard, following a number of articles on the incident by various broadsheets.Sadly even one of the moderators of a forum posted how he "thought the chants were hilarious and joined in with them, problem? i wish some of the fools on here would get a funny side to them."......Charming.
So is homophobia in rugby league something new? No it's not.
Now growing up on a farm in a small Yorkshire village and experiencing homophobia for the first time as an 11 year old when pretty much most of it just went well over my head you would have thought that it would also be lost to me four years later attending trials to play cricket for the Yorkshire Women's side, but i guess being a little more street wise helped me crack on to things even when it comes from 'gay women' themselves.I turned up to play to be greeted with a room full of women (who at the time i believed to be related to each other in some way) with their crew cut hair, barrel like body appearance and mam and love tattooed across their knuckles,mostly in their late 30's and early 40's all wearing jean jackets.To them i was 'fresh meat' and it was a really uncomfortable atmosphere to be in, and although i played well as wicket keeper and bowled i decided not to return when asked too, maybe i gave up a great career in the summer sport but unease felt from the comments made by all the women gay and straight alike was simply too much to deal with.At that time i put most of, if not all of my fears down to growing up naive as part of a pretty dysfunctional family,mom being married for a 3rd time moving out with both my younger sister and half sister (both of whom had different fathers to me and each other and different surnames) step dad moving away too and me being left alone at 15 and having 3 jobs to put a roof over my head so i could finish school and give myself half chance of getting a job and a fair start in adult life.Looking back on things at a later date its the homophobia that was biggest deal.For the next few years until my early 20's in fact, i played football for the works 5-a-side team, a bit of tennis and hockey in summer two sports i played much of in school, and continued to turn out 3/4 times a week for the 2 local Badminton teams i was involved with playing in the Yorkshire league.Then i came across a local women's rugby league team, went to watch them play a couple of games but, even from the sidelines picked up much of the abuse and disgust thrown at some of the girls when they didn't have too good a game, which was well away from any type of banter you call between team mates and this echoed so much of the cricket situation again.A year later i saw an add for a team from Halifax looking for females to join the ranks, and as i knew some of the blokes who trained at the ground for the men's team i decided to venture again into the unknown, this time things were different, all the team were really friendly and keen to get women involved ready for the new season ( a first time in the official league for this team) and i never looked back after my inaugural training session with them, fitting well in the front row as an open side prop.
I quickly learned that the team was respectful and inclusive of all women as some who played and others who just turned up for a bit of fitness work also were part of the local hockey team, many of whom were lgbt men and women.So we had lesbians who played or trained and were accepted for being who they were, although nothing much was said specifically about the persons sexuality unless it was on topic in the changing rooms and bar as the latest gossip and tittle tattle of girlfriends falling out and a big gay drama.It was quite difficult for one or two of the girls also as we had a lot of husbands boyfriends and other family members watching our games, and they very much had to tone things down with an audience present as they weren't 'out' at home.As we worked our way through the season and got to know women from the other teams it was apparent that there were quite a few lesbians who were playing the game and for the late 80's some what pioneering things too.There was (unlike what i have seen at local women's football matches in the last couple of years) very little abuse from the sidelines and the family members or general public,even when we played on the big stage a number of times as curtain raisers to professional men's matches.There was however at times non acceptance for lesbians who played for the opposition, this was quite uncomfortable at times for women in our squad who were out or wanting to 'come out' as they felt that perhaps the hurtful things being said may also be directed at them when they weren't around.The men who coached us and often trained with us were fine, they seemed to be totally respectful of all of us, as women of whatever persuasion we were out there giving it some and playing the game as it should be just like the guys, one or two refused to join in with practise games as we were too rough!!
Over the years some of the friendly rivalry between our team and others in the newly formed and extended 2 tier league got out of hand.The homophobia gradually crept in as other teams got better players and bigger squads and could match our strengths and achievements of being in the first 3 Challenge Cup Finals ever held in the WRL, and winning the league title in our very first year, and several tournaments and 7's.This often spilled over at Country representative games and in the GB trials and squads when we were all supposed to be on the same side.Sadly i had to witness the worst of this homophobia from one of my own team mates, and captain, when, 2 girls from the opposition side after a match had nothing more than a snog and a close embrace across the far side of the car park, our captain, picked up an air rifle and shot at them, claiming it was disgusting and should not be allowed to happen as there were children present, and they should have saved their intimacy for elsewhere, it was also suggested that they were lucky they did this after the game rather than before, as they would have had to have taken a 'right kicking' for the unwanted show of affection in public.
Its hoped that the up coming Sheffield Eagles match in March 2011 as part of a sponsorship deal with Pride Sports and LGBT History Month, when the team will turn out in a special kit with 'Homophobia Tackle it' displayed on the front will highlight issues around LGBT participation in RL and raise awareness that any homophobic abuse is unacceptable and in many cases unlawful when aimed at LGBT's and indeed anyone perceived to be so, and help create a more respectful and safer environment to play, coach, administer, and watch the game in.