The Kings Cross Steelers, the world’s first gay rugby team have just released their rather sexy calendar, to help raise funds for their mission to take part in the Bingham Cup in Australia next year.
I played and trained with them a few years ago, and although I only played a couple of games and was never very good, I’ll always be thankful to them for the confidence they inspired in me, and the great friendships that I made. I caught up with ‘Mr December,’ Tom Whittaker.
DH: Tom, when did you start playing rugby?
TW: I started playing at university, I went to Bath so was surrounded by rugby and thought to myself ‘I can do that,’ so turned up at a club and jumped in!
DH: What’s it like playing for a gay team?
TW: In most ways it’s exactly the same as a team that doesn’t actively promote itself as a ‘gay inclusive’ team (we have bisexual and straight players too). The rugby, banter, strong friendships and camaraderie are all the same. With that in mind, many people would say ‘why do you need a gay inclusive team?’
It’s the knowledge that you can be out and know 100% that it won’t be a problem. Also, you can talk to your teammates about things that you can only really relate to if you’re gay, like how to come out to friends or family.
DH: Do you experience homophobia on or off the pitch from the teams you play?
TW: There’s a broad range of reactions. Though I wasn’t in the team when it was established in 1995, as the first gay team in the world it attracted a lot of attention.
Now we’ve been around for a while the intrigue has mostly gone. On rare occasions we do encounter homophobia from opposition players and supporters, but this is rare. It’s so astonishing to find such a backwards mentality in 2013 that I partly find it fascinating. The Steelers are quick to report any such incidents to the Rugby Football Union.
However most of my experience is hugely positive. There are teams in the league who love playing us, we have a laugh in the clubhouse afterwards, and we have a great relationship with them. It’s truly what rugby is all about.
DH: Why do you think that rugby is so much more open than football?
TW: It’s all relative – football is a particularly low benchmark! The only openly gay professional rugby player is Gareth Thomas. With so many thousands of rugby players around the world, it’s statistically impossible that none of them are gay. So saying that rugby is open is a huge overstatement.
But I believe it’s changing. Compared to football, yes rugby is more open, when you think about amazing rugby role models such as Ben Cohen, Gareth Thomas, James Haskell and David Pocock. Such high profile role models don’t really exist in other sports.
DH: Tell us about the calendar! How was it put together?
TW: Ah now we’ve done with the chit chat lets get to the naked bums eh?! Every two years all the gay rugby clubs globally (there’s roughly 50 teams) compete in the Bingham Cup, the largest non-professional rugby tournament in the world.
Last year we represented London in the Bingham Cup in Manchester, and next year it will be hosted by our friends the Sydney Convicts. So we need to raise a lot of money to get kit, subsidised accommodation and so on.
The calendar is just one element of our fundraising. We were lucky to have Felipe Tozzato, do several shoots in different locations with a variety of guys.
At one point I was stood in a stairwell, buck naked, covered in oil, having strangers in the building opposite look through the window wondering what was happening. Just a typical Saturday.
DH: Did you do any special preparation for your ‘Mr December’ shoot?
TW: Not particularly, I enjoy going to the gym, so that stops me falling too far out of shape. Aside from the gym, preparation was just baby oil and a clean pair of undies!
If you liked this interview, you can show your support for the Steelers by buying their calendar here.
If you want to find out more about the Steelers, check out their promo video here:
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