Cricket Creates Family and LGBTQ Allies
Creating something new provides a chance to do things differently, to enable cultures and structures to be curated and crafted, and, perhaps most importantly, gives you a chance to rip up the rule book and start afresh.
Cricket, like any sport, can be an unwelcoming environment for members of the LGBTQ+ community. Still, I knew it didn’t need to be this way when I started exploring establishing an inclusive club. Changing cricket was not going to be easy, but by planting a seed and helping it grow, I hoped we could make people think differently about LGBTQ+ participation in cricket, both within and outside the community.
Team sports and the environments that go hand in hand are not always easy to cultivate and promote. It is these environments that can be prohibitive and unwelcoming for so many. Creating the Birmingham Unicorns Cricket Club was the first step in changing cricket culture in England. The club was established to welcome all from the LGBTQ+ community and their allies. To date we have grown a membership that includes gay men, lesbian women, trans men, trans women, non-binary people, bisexual men and straight allies.
This doesn’t happen by accident; it involves consciously ensuring everyone is welcomed and respected. So what does this look like for the Unicorns? We knew that good intentions were not enough; we had to make sure this played out in reality.
First and foremost, we agreed on a club vision and ethos, one that everyone would sign up to when they joined, and it had to become the benchmark for the way we played and socialised together.
Birmingham Unicorns is a place where all LGBTQ+ people and their allies can come to play cricket, be themselves and socialise with others from the community. We encourage everyone to be themselves, free of judgement, giving all the opportunity to be part of a cricketing family. Unicorns is a community where you will find humour, solidarity, support, and enjoy cricket. We abide by the following principles:
- Unicorns play to win, always striving to be competitive, always looking to improve and continue to grow as a club.
- Unicorns club members win and lose together, and we support each other on and off the cricket field. We will achieve success together, take wickets and make runs and take catches together, making mistakes and improving together. Ultimately, we will have fun, laugh, and cry together, building a club open to the whole community.
- Unicorns will strive to create environments where everyone can be themselves. We do not tolerate discrimination or bullying under any circumstances. We promote a space where you can be yourself and enjoy the company of fellow LGBTQ+ cricketers and fans.
This foundation is essential. But making an environment where everyone is allies and friends can only be built on this foundation. We are still learning; that process continues, but we have learnt so much, including welcoming new members with open hearts and eyes. We all make judgements when we meet people, and meeting new members at the Unicorns has challenged me. I’ve had to rethink and re-evaluate my beliefs, views and assumptions about people. This learning process has been powerful and moving at times. Meeting people and being open to everything they have to offer is something I have had to work at, and I know other club members have worked hard to be open and welcoming to all who join us.
We are taught to judge from a young age. However, undoing this instinct takes time.
Having a common interest, cricket has helped to forge new friendships and understanding between members and teammates. We have a range of cricketing experiences across the membership. Experienced cricketers are joined by those brand new to the sport. The age range and the geographical reach of the club is extraordinary. Having such a mix of people coming together, with the key common threads being cricket and as members of the LGBTQ+ community, has amazed me. But how has this worked? There have been several practical and practice-based measures taken that have helped us be friends and allies. These have included:
- Letting people tell their own stories in their own time. For many LGBTQ+ people, there may have been trauma in their past, or it may still be present today. We want people to tell their own stories, but it needs to be in their own time when they are ready. There is no need to declare sexual orientations or gender identities when arriving at the club. Instead, stories emerge through the strength of friendships and the firm understanding of allyship.
- We are open and visible about what people can expect when they come to the club. This is an ever-evolving process, but we use our website and social media to promote the club and answer questions openly and honestly. We knew, for example, that attracting trans members needed us to have more than an anti-discrimination policy. It required us to visibly welcome them, and then they could tell their story in their own time.
- Cricket is a team game, but it has a unique focus on individual statistics and performances. Everybody wants both the team to do well as well as having an impact on the game themselves. Making your first runs with the bat, taking a catch or a piece of excellent fielding all contribute to the team performance. So it is important to celebrate all these achievements and recognise the improvement in everyone’s games.
- We socialise together as much as we can. It sounds like a small thing, and it hasn’t always been easy, given we started when covid-19 was at its height in the UK, but we talk to each other, share a beer or soft drink and learn from each other. This has helped create a community that is strong and supports each other.
Being an ally is not simply about saying the right thing; it is about doing the right things and giving people the space and respect to tell their stories. We all have one to tell. Telling stories educates, grows an understanding and bond between people and this, for me, is what makes a strong ally within the LGBTQ+ community. At the Unicorns, we continue to learn and evolve, but we know that respecting each other’s stories is the foundation to allyship, friendship and success.