On Wednesday 25th February Sussex sports teams will wear rainbow laces in support of anti-homophobia charity, Stonewall

When I was 17 I played against the world’s first gay and open rugby club, the Kings Cross Steelers. It was the hardest game I have ever played in my entire life. I came out of it with a black eye and two stitches in my eyebrow. As it happens my team won but only by 3 points but if anyone ever says “gay people can’t play rugby” then I recommend you play against those boys and learn a lesson.

Homophobia has no place in sport, or anywhere for that matter. Personally, I am tired for being deemed a homophobe just because I am a rugby player. I believe everyone should have the right to play sport, regardless of their sexual identity. Why has it taken until so recently for something to be done about homophobia in sport? The vast majority of sports people I know are not homophobes and certainly none of my sporting friends are (I couldn’t be their friend if they were) but I know there are many out there; people who still think it is funny to make gay jokes and be derogatory. I can’t pretend to understand how awful it would be if I wanted to come out but couldn’t as I was scared of what people would think, especially to my team-mates as they are my best friends.

Anti-homophobia campaigns have been a massive part of rebuilding the Sussex Men’s rugby team. We have worked with GALOP, a charity that provides help and advice to the LGBTQ community in the South East and the charity Gay Men Fighting Aids. However, what we were most proud of last year was our “Kick Homophobia out of Sport Campaign,” working with Stonewall which took place during Varsity last year.

Two men who really drove us to take up the campaign were Ben Cohen and Nigel Owens. Ben Cohen was an England International, Saints and Lions player. His uncle was in the 1966 World Cup winning team. He retired from rugby in 2011 after his father was murdered after trying to stop a homophobic attack on another person. After this tragic loss, Cohen threw himself into helping stop gay hate crime and even gave up his career so he would have more time for the cause.  What Cohen’s father did was incredibly brave and selfless.

Nigel Owens is a renowned referee in the rugby world, known for being a strict disciplinarian and is also known to not hold back on what he thinks! He doesn’t mind telling a 19st, 6,6ft second row that he is being stupid and to stop acting like a child. He is very much respected and players know not to mess with him. Owens is also one of the first referees to come out. I can’t imagine how hard that must have been for him; especially in such a “lad culture” world but Owens still overcame this stigma. Owens even jokes about himself, being known for saying “that lineout was about as straight as me” before giving the penalty. These two massive figures have started a job that we as students and players need to finish.

Sussex Rugby are so pleased that the Students’ Union has taken up Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces again this year as it shows that people took notice. Last Varsity we took photos of all the sports team holding “People Are Gay Get Over It” signs and wearing their laces. The teams that took part included Badminton, Rugby, Football, American Football, Hockey, Tennis and of course Ultimate Frisbee. It is up to us as the next generation of sportsmen and women to stop these stigmas, stop these jokes and the ignorance surrounding homosexuality in the sporting world. Stonewall have started the job but it is for us to finish it. The Students’ Union are doing a fantastic job continuing the campaign that we started and hopefully this will remain a tradition at Sussex for many years to come.

Jonny Harris

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