Meet the gay-friendly Leeds rugby team breaking new ground

Members of the Leeds Hunters squad
Members of the Leeds Hunters squad
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An inclusive rugby team aimed at gay and bisexual men has enjoyed 'overwhelming' support since forming in Leeds.

Leeds Hunters were only set up in November, but now have a squad of over 30 players and are preparing for their first match.

The squad train at Roundhay Park

The squad train at Roundhay Park

The rugby union team train at Roundhay Park and want to offer inexperienced players the chance to try the sport in a friendly and supportive environment, whatever their sexual orientation.

The project was set up by Rob Wilson, who works on inclusive sports initiatives for Leeds City Council.

"We run different social events to encourage people to get involved in sports, and there were quite a lot of people coming up to me and saying they wanted to take part in rugby. I approached the RFU and they were really supportive, and acknowledged the need for it in the area," said Rob.

The Hunters are believed to be Yorkshire's first dedicated LGBT rugby club.

"They threw some resources behind us, and ran a Return to Rugby programme for 12 weeks, which focused on refreshing skills and introducing them to beginners. Twenty guys turned up at our first training session and we now have 37 players, and play Yarnbury's fifth XV next weekend."

Rob estimates that the majority of the squad identify as gay or bisexual, although there are also several heterosexual players.

"Some of them had played at school, but had never really found a group they felt part of later on. We're an inclusive team and the idea is to offer a safe space. Historically, some people have had negative experiences around sport and PE, such as homophobic bullying."

The team also acts as a social opportunity for young gay men away from the bar scene.

"We offer different opportunities, and it takes away the pressure of having to come out to team-mates, and the awkwardness of being asked about your wife and kids that can happen when you join a new sports club."

The next stage in the Hunters' development is to recruit new talent from the city's universities.

"We've mainly promoted the team through local LGBT media, but we want to go a step further. At the unis, there may be gay and straight guys who want to play rugby away from the student scene, and who maybe aren't keen on the drinking culture."

The players have been coached by members of the Leeds Medics and Dentists student side, and Rob says they have been inundated by support from established Yorkshire clubs.

"It's been overwhelming - teams have been offering to do anything to help us, and have been inviting us to their socials. We've been welcomed into a family, it's been such a good response, really positive. There have been several offers of friendly fixtures."

Future plans include entering a league, playing in international gay rugby competitions and arranging more local friendlies.

"We're still building up experience and finding our feet. There's a real mix of ages, from 18 to 40, and a good mix of professions and backgrounds. Some have played regularly, but others had never stepped on a rugby pitch before."

The team train at 10am on Saturdays at Roundhay Park, although they are moving to a new training base in March. Home matches will be played at the university sports pitches in Weetwood.

Visit the club's Facebook page at The Leeds Hunters RUFC to find out more.

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