India Willoughby makes history as first trans patron of a pro sports club

The trailblazing UK broadcaster took to social media to announce that she is the new patron of the Keighley Cougars.

Patron India Willoughby poses with members and owners of Keighley Cougars. Players wear Pride rugby jerseys, and everyone is smiling for the camera.
Image: @cougarmania via X

India Willoughby made history on Sunday, April 14, as she became the first trans patron of a professional sports club, the Keighley Cougars rugby league team.

Willoughby, known for her work as a broadcaster for BBC Radio 4, is a trailblazer for the trans community. In 2017, she became the UK’s first out transgender newsreader and is known within the LGBTQ+ community for her openness about her identity.

In a statement about her new position as patron of Keighley Cougars, Willoughby stated that she is “thrilled to represent this incredible club that is challenging societal norms”.

“My community has faced unjust scrutiny for too long, and all I aim to do is represent this club to the best of my ability while advocating for understanding and acceptance,” she added.


Keighley Cougars is owned by married couple Kaue Garcia and Ryan O’Neill, making it the only professional sports team outside of the US to have out LGBTQ+ owners, as reported by Attitude. With Kaue and Ryan at the helm, the club is dedicated to making rugby league more LGBTQ+ inclusive.

O’Neill states that the “Keighley Cougars have always been at the forefront of promoting inclusivity and sparking meaningful dialogue,” adding that Willoughby’s appointment “is another step forward in our positive approach”.


The Keighley Cougars expressed that the 2024 season is going to be “dedicated to promoting Trans Rights as Human Rights, with India Willoughby leading the charge.”

The first step in this mission was hiring India Willoughby as a patron, and they are also introducing a special trans kit for club members to wear during matches, and for non-club members to purchase. 

All proceeds from this kit will be donated to Mermaids, one of the UK’s leading trans youth charities.

Co-owner Garcia explained that the club hopes “to donate thousands of pounds to this amazing charity to promote education and understanding to the Trans community. Since 2019, that’s our mission, our motto and our ethos. Making sure we are an inclusive club to all, as everyone deserves to be heard and respected above all”.

The club has further established itself as an LGBTQ+-inclusive club by holding annual Pride events, dedicating matches t0 LGBTQ+ History Month, and rolling out a banner with the words “trans rights are human rights” earlier this year.

© 2024 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

Support GCN

GCN has been a vital, free-of-charge information service for Ireland’s LGBTQ+ community since 1988.

During this global COVID pandemic, we like many other organisations have been impacted greatly in the way we can do business and produce. This means a temporary pause to our print publication and live events and so now more than ever we need your help to continue providing this community resource digitally.

GCN is a registered charity with a not-for-profit business model and we need your support. If you value having an independent LGBTQ+ media in Ireland, you can help from as little as €1.99 per month. Support Ireland’s free, independent LGBTQ+ media.

0 comments. Please sign in to comment.