“Our mission is to be the sports club of choice,” proclaims the statement on the website of the Emerald Warriors RFC. The Dublin-based club, a trailblazer in terms of being openly LGBT+ inclusive, declares that their vision is to be “the leading inclusive rugby club, not only in Ireland, but in the world”.
Warriors deputy trainer and chairperson Simon Finnegan speaks to the Equal Times about the club’s foundation. “It all began just over 15 years ago when Michael Richie Whyte, the club’s founder, watched the King’s Cross Steelers play on a trip to England. [That team] was the first gay and LGBT+ rugby team in the world.” Finnegan, himself a former player, continued. “After seeing them, Michael thought it would be a good idea to do the same thing here in Ireland.”
At that time, there were only a small amount of clubs and tournaments in the LGBT+ rugby circle. Since then, many more have joined the fray. An increasing number of amateur LGBT+ competitions have been set up, including the Bingham Cup – a world cup organised by the International Gay Rugby Federation, and the Union Cup, which is its European equivalent. In July of this year, Ireland and the Emerald Warriors hosted the Union Cup mid-Pride month.
Today, the players in the Emerald Warriors team number nearly 60 gay, bisexual and heterosexual players. The team welcomes anyone looking for a comfortable and inclusive place to play, regardless of their sexual orientation. “To be able to join a group of friends based on sport without worrying about coming out is such a relief,” said 24-year old Conor Bulman, who has played with the Warriors since last season.
“In the team, no-one makes a big deal of it and there are no judgements, on or off the pitch.”
Homosexuality remains something of a taboo subject in mainstream rugby circles. Gareth Thomas, the first professional rugby player to come out while still playing, was the victim of a homophobic attack in Cardiff in November of last year. The Stonewall Rainbow Laces campaign began at the same time, which was a way for many international players to publicly show their support for the LGBT+ community.
Emerald Warriors’ captain Oran Sweeny tells the Equal Times: “We decided as a club to adopt the rainbow laces. Everyone wore them, in the field and on the bench. It is a very simple thing, but if the whole team wears them, it voices a demand.”
The club regularly hosts events such as their Queen of the Warriors Drag Show, which featured members of the rugby team putting on a drag performance. They also regularly hold open days for the club, where anyone of any playing ability can come along and try their hand at the sport.
The Emerald Warriors currently train on Mondays and Wednesdays from 7pm at St Mary’s RFC, Templeville Road, Dublin 6W. More information can be found here.
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