Gay pride triumphs on and off rugby field

THE only hint the rugby matches were any different to traditional suburban competitions came during the presentation speeches. There it was was acknowledged that, for the nation's only three gay and inclusive rugby teams, holding a championship was an achievement on its own.

The Purchas Cup, named for the founder of the gay rugby movement in Australia, Sydney's Andrew Purchas, has been the prize in six championships; but yesterday's tournament at Brisbane Easts was the first time Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney had competed for it at the same event.

The Melbourne Chargers were founded only in 2009, while Brisbane's team regrouped just four months ago, having disbanded a few years after it was established in 2004.

For Beau Hawton, 21, hearing of the Hustlers' reincarnation was a chance to ''get back on the field again'' after years of playing the game as a teenager in Chinchilla.

While he had not experienced homophobia playing the sport in Brisbane, he had ''seen it in the past''.

''It's a cliche, but our team are one big brotherhood,'' he said.

''So it is not too different from other teams at all. It's the same in that sense. But I think a lot of the guys feel more comfortable playing in a team which is so accepting.''

He didn't know if all his teammates identified as gay, transgendered or bisexual, because ''we don't ask''.

But he said changes by Australia's football codes, at a mainstream level, to stamp out homophobia, ''even in small steps'', were making it easier for more people to come back to the sports they loved.

''I know a lot of the guys weren't playing sport due to fear of harassment, but having the codes start to stand up together, standing up against homophobia, it's just giving people the opportunity, the chance to play.''

The president of Queensland Rugby Union, Tony Shaw, said it was up to the codes to lead by example.

''We want everyone to play,'' he said. ''Gay, straight, gay-friendly, whatever. We don't care, it doesn't matter. We just want people to play a sport they love.''

Next year, Brisbane's gay side, the Hustlers, will join a suburban league, following the example of trailblazers Sydney, which this year won both the Bingham Cup, the world championship for gay and inclusive teams, and their local suburban competition, the Nicholson Cup.

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