Young people key to combatting homophobia: LGBT rugby chief

Dublin (AFP) –


Educating young people about the evils of homophobia was a key message from Europe's largest LGBT+ inclusive rugby tournament, the biennial Union Cup, held in Dublin last weekend, organisers said.

Richie Fagan, chairman of the organisers and president of the Irish LGBT inclusive rugby club Emerald Warriors, invited his 12-year-old nephew's school team to play against Blackrock College.

The young boys took to the pitch amidst a cacophony of noise with families comprising a mix of same-sex parents and heterosexual parents in the crowd.

Many said the atmosphere reflected how far the formerly conservative and Catholic Church-dominated Ireland had progressed since the same-sex marriage referendum in 2015.

Ireland's probably most famed product, Guinness, even painted their gates in the rainbow colours.

However, Fagan -- who has seen the Warriors grow from 40 to 160 members in five years and has secured a historic three-year sponsorship contract with Bank of Ireland -- said away from the revelry there is a serious message.

"I have a beautiful relationship with my nephew and I want him to understand LGBT and rugby," he told AFP.

"I want him to be the kind of kid who would stand up in school and say bullying someone because of their sexuality is not acceptable.

"He has a phenomenal bunch of friends and the way forward is I want them to see I am educating them.

"It is really important to educate the young and this is a way for them to come down and see what this is about."

Emerald Warriors stalwart David Revins -- a convert from football who has played in almost every position in the team -- says being heterosexual had not deterred him from joining the club.

"I had no qualms. They are my friends and family," the 32-year-old told AFP.

"When you go on to the pitch you are fighting for the man next to you, it does not matter what sex, colour or religious belief they hold.

"Rugby is more inclusive compared to football."

-'More power to you all' -

Whilst spectators came to watch a record 1,500 players -- both men and women -- from 15 European countries, there are still high-profile people who remain deeply opposed to homosexuality.

Highly-charged comments by Australian rugby star Israel Folau and veteran British politician Ann Widdecombe, recently elected as an MEP for the Brexit Party, are the latest examples.

Folau, who has had his contract terminated by the Australian Rugby Union, said homosexuals belonged in hell, while Widdecombe said science may provide a "cure" for homosexuality.

However, Katherine Zappone, who along with her late wife Ann Louise Gilligan led the campaign for the same-sex referendum after their marriage in Canada was not accepted in Ireland, said those comments were passee.

"It (Widdecombe's view) is from the last century and has become a minority voice, but still can be very hurtful especially for young people," Zappone, who is Irish Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, told AFP.

Irish rugby international Lindsay Peat, whose wife Claire was present with their three-year-old son Barra, grew up idolising Martina Navratilova.

But she says it is a shame that, other than Welsh rugby referee Nigel Owens and former Wales international Gareth Thomas, there are not as many homosexual sportsmen as there are lesbians.

"It just has not been that progressive on that front to be openly gay and be a role model," the 38-year-old told AFP.

"Rugby is a very masculine sport but you cannot define someone's machoness if they are gay or straight."

Peat was ecstatic to be receiving the trophy named in honour of Gilligan from Zappone, who was especially moved as the tournament came just days before the second anniversary of her wife's death.

"She (Gilligan) was a woman of hope and imagination and also great exuberance and fun," said Zappone.

"If she saw what was going on today she would be looking down and saying 'More power to you all'."