Dublin: 14°C Tuesday 28 June 2022

'Do you have to be part of the LGBTQ+ community to join? Absolutely not'

Na Gaeil Aeracha is the GAA’s first LGBTQ+ inclusive club.

THE EMPHASIS IS on enjoyment. Always.

Na Gaeil Aeracha is the GAA’s first LGBTQ+ inclusive club, and Emma Loo is vice-chairperson and bainisteoir of the ladies Gaelic football team.

Founded in 2020, the growth and uptake has been remarkable.

“We’ve just grown strides and we’re still able to reinforce our mission to encourage people across the LGBTQ+ community, including allies, to play Gaelic games,” Loo tells The42.

“There’s been such a huge interest from people wanting to play or just be part of the club in so many different capacities, whether that’s people just picking up cones or if people want to come to the sidelines or actually play.

“We’ve been absolutely blessed with the amount of numbers that have been coming our way and it’s all been really, really positive. It’s really encouraging that we can now provide that safe and inclusive space to play GAA as well as for people to get active, to make new friends and our overall want for people to have fun.”

“Every single training session, every single match, I will tell them just have fun,” she adds. “This isn’t about being stressed coming to training or during training or going home feeling like your coach or manager was trying to push you to your limits and to the point where you start to not enjoy your sport.

“Having fun is really something that we push. I never want anyone to feel like we’re Olympians or we’re superhumans on the pitch. If you’ve never picked up a football before, you can test it out for the first time. No one’s going to judge you if you hit the corner flag. I’ll be proud if you make contact with your foot to the football, that’s all that matters to us. And I’m just so happy to see so many people from so many different backgrounds, coming to our sessions, trying it out and leaving with smiles.”

From mountains of paperwork and interest in text and words two years ago to solid, tangible numbers and competitive teams now, Na Gaeil Aeracha is going from strength to strength. Bigger and better.

The club had 24 players registered with the LGFA in 2021, the number having doubled at the time of our conversation with still a few weeks to go until deadline day. They had over 75 players filed with the GAA: people who had never played before, those who had dropped off in their younger years, or active players preferring to be involved with an LGBTQ+ inclusive club.

That fact is highlighted time and time again. The42 previously covered Na Gaeil Aeracha in 2020, with many of the comments questioning the inclusivity of the club, arguing it was exclusive. Loo shrugs that off.

In the past year, we’ve just had positive messages. We actually haven’t had any negative messages, definitely in the past year, which is really, really comforting. Sometimes we get messages from say, straight people, and they’ll say, ‘Is it only for gay people? Do you have to be part of the LGBTQ+ community?’ We say, ‘Absolutely not.’

“We are welcoming everyone, regardless of your gender or your sexual orientation. We don’t judge that at all. We never ask you what gender you are or what sexual orientation you are. You are welcome regardless of all of that. We’re just delighted that you want to play the sport and that’s our main focus. We’re not looking into what people are thinking.

“We’re a GAA club, we just say that we’re LGBTQ+ inclusive. We are being active allies that people feel, ‘Oh, okay, it’s been said so I’ll feel confident.’ And we do take strides to make sure that we are being as inclusive as can be. Whether that’s using inclusive language, such as ‘folks,’ or ‘everybody,’ instead of saying, ‘lads’ or ‘guys.’”

The big question remains: why is the GAA such a heteronormative environment?

Recent GPA research indicates a welcoming environment for LGBTQ+ players among inter-county squads, but why is there such a lack of openness in the GAA, in contrast with ladies football and camogie?

Male club footballers Brian Fennell and Cathal O’Sullivan have opened up in recent months, on Off The Ball and the Paper Tuesdays podcast respectively. Both referenced dressing room culture as they shared their personal stories.

It’s something that comes up time and time again at Na Gaeil Aeracha. Several players were put off by that aspect in the past. It’s a reason why so many dropped out, but now feel at home in their new club.

“What’s so comforting about having the space with Na Gaeil Aeracha is that people can talk about their past experiences such as if you were in primary school or the changing rooms in secondary school,” Loo explains.

“And there’s this comfort when someone will start talking about their experience saying, ‘I wasn’t comfortable in the changing room, I would keep my head down in fear that someone would comment, ‘Oh, you’re checking me out,’ or ask about someone’s sexuality. But with the club, there is that space where people feel they can discuss it.

We all want a safe space where people don’t have that feeling in the pit in their stomach where they don’t feel welcome. So by talking about our experiences, we’re validating how people feel and we’re doing everything we can, by creating awareness, to not let that sort of stuff happen again.” 

So, have things improved?

“The GAA is a really old establishment,” Loo concludes. “I think for any sporting organisation – any organisation, doesn’t even have to be sporting – people just like their comforts and if something works, they just want to use what works efficiently.

“I think with modern day, things do change at a rapid pace, and it can be a good idea for big organisations or panels or committees to look further afield, look at the bigger picture and to see what the younger people are talking about. Listening to those voices is just really important. And when those voices are listened to, I think change can be made effectively and accurately because it’s come from the source, and what people want and what they need. So I think that’s what can be done.

“The GAA have made great strides to enforce diversity and inclusion in the organisation just by creating awareness and that’s even getting people involved on their team with the title of diversity and inclusion. They’re taking steps in the right direction anyway.”

Here’s to more and more of those. 

You can email Na Gaeil Aeracha on dublinlgbtqgaa@gmail.com, follow the club on TwitterInstagram or Facebook, and find out more here.

About the author:

Emma Duffy

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