How the world’s first gay-inclusive rugby club brought Pride to the pitch

When a group of six friends met for a beer in 1995 to discuss the tentative idea of a gay rugby club, they could surely have never imagined that Kings Cross Steelers RFC would be the first of nearly 100 gay and inclusive rugby clubs found around the world. In fact, Antarctica is now the only continent without one. 

Today, the London-based King Cross Steelers RFC has more than 250 active players – a mix of gay, bisexual and straight men. It all started with a group of six friends, meeting for a beer at Central Station Pub in North London.

With a number of teams and varying rugby experience and ability, inclusivity is at the heart of the Kings Cross Steelers RFC to this day. Many members didn’t want to or didn’t feel able to take part in rugby or other sports at school, and the ethos of these inclusive clubs is to make sure it’s an environment for everyone to enjoy the sport and the benefits of being part of this community.

Kings Cross Steelers RFC pride rugby
(Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

Matthew Wright was one such member. He had long wanted to get into rugby as it was a sport a lot of his family played, but explains he wasn’t too comfortable joining one of the teams where he grew up. With the Kings Cross Steelers, it was different. 

“I wouldn’t feel as comfortable joining a club that doesn’t label itself as inclusive, because you’ve got that little niggle in the back of your head…Will they accept me for being gay? Will they not?” Wright says. Joining an openly inclusive team, these questions weren’t a concern. 

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Wright also attests to the wider benefits of being involved in the club. “I thought I would just be here to play the sport in an open and friendly environment. Instead, the club has become another family…The club has completely changed my life.”

Kings Cross Steelers RFC pride rugby
Members from Kings Cross Steelers RFC during the Gay Pride parade on July 01, 2023 in London, England. Pride in London is an annual LGBT+ festival and parade held each summer in London. 35,000 people are expected to march this year making the event the largest in London to date. (Photo by Peter Nicholls/Getty Images for Pride In London)

Robert Hayward was one of the founders and he can appreciate the societal change since Kings Cross Steelers began. After all, in the mid-1990s the first legal same-sex marriages in England and Wales were nearly 20 years away.

“Society has changed so much over the last 25 years,” Hayward says. “And I just like to think that we, as a rugby club, have contributed in some small way.” 

It’s June which means it’s Pride Month! Check out another of our Great Big Stories celebrating inclusivity in the video below.

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