Palette Magazine

South Africa's rugby team Jozi Cats defy gay stereotypes

By Sole Sastre

Members of South Africa’s Jozi Cats rugby team;
Members of South Africa’s Jozi Cats rugby team; Photo: © Werner Prinsloo / Jozi Cats and Havas Village South Africa

Much is said about the importance of tolerance and inclusion in all walks of life. Still, discrimmination is painfully persistent, and this is especially true in sports. While quite a few athletes have come out, raising the profile of LGBT presence and contribution in the sporting world, the truth is that the court, pitch and diamond are still sadly off-limits for many.

Looking to debunk preconceived notions and give all kinds of people an opportunity to play, South Africa’s Jozi Cats have launched an ad campaign that turns stereotypes on their heads. Players were photographed illustrating a homophobic slur with a question mark, thus challenging the term.

The Jozi Cats are an LGBT team that offers a safe environment for individuals to engage in a sport regardless of their sexual orientation and/or expression. But many sports, including rugby, have enough athletes to form gay leagues and even host world cups. International Gay Rugby was established in 2002 to unite the increasing number of teams around the world. Now, the competition culminates in the international Bingham Cup, one of the largest 15 A-side rugby tournaments in the world.

Also established in 2002, the National Gay Flag Football League joined the ranks of the Gay and Lesbian Tennis Alliance (1991), International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics (1987) and North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance (1977), among an ever-increasing number of sporting groups. These organizations are all part of a larger movement that offers the community more options. Where once, the local gay bar was the sole place to meet like-minded individuals, the sports arena has provided another venue to do just that in a way that also embraces healthy living.

Beyond LGBT leagues, organizations like Athlete Ally help educate and empower the athletic community to take a stand against homophobia and transphobia at all levels. Allies who have participated in workshops and campaigns include Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and Women’s National Basketball Association, among others.

In 2017 Miami will host World OutGames IV. Many of the best and most promising athletes from leagues around the world will compete for gold. Their very presence will challenge notions and inspire fellow athletes and would-be athletes of all backgrounds.

Likewise, this year’s 8th Bingham Cup — in Nashville, Tennessee — will continue its tradition of challenging stereotypes. The event was named after Mark Bingham, an avid rugby player who died on United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11. It is commonly believed Mark may have been one of the people who tackled the terrorists on that flight, preventing it from reaching its target. Pansy?