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'We want to create a space where everyone is absolutely welcome' - GAA to register first LGBTQ+ club

A closer look at Na Gael Aeracha and inclusion in Gaelic games.

A HUGE STEP has been taken over the past few weeks with news that the GAA is set to register its first LGBTQ+ club.

a-general-view-of-croke-park A general view of Croke Park. Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

Behind this historic development is Na Gaeil Aeracha, which will be an inclusive place for one and all, based in Dublin initially with big plans to grow countrywide. 

The news first emerged at a webinar to help increase inclusion in sport, hosted by DCU’s Centre of Excellence for Diversity and Inclusion two weeks ago, but the club has been in the works for quite some time now.

Emma Loo is one of the seven founding members (the others being Karl Shannon, Luke Nolan, Craig Woods, Caoimhe Baxter, Tadhg Jenkins and Hugh Carr) and she explains the story behind it all.

“Na Gaeil Aeracha came about from a group of very like-minded people,” she tells The42. “We came from all different backgrounds and experiences, but we have one common passion and that was sport and GAA.

“We were just discussing it as friends and people who knew each other, and then another co-founder, Karl, he put out a very casual tweet just saying, ‘Okay, we have an idea to launch an LGBTQ+ inclusive club. Would anyone be interested? We’re thinking starting off, we’ll have all four codes; hurling, camogie football — ladies and men’s.’

And the tweet nearly has, I think, 1.5 thousand likes so far, the engagement rate was just phenomenal. We realised, ‘Wow, there’s a need for this. There’s a want.’

“We headed to the GAA and we were in contact with Geraldine McTavish, who’s the diversity and inclusion officer, and Dermot McCarthy from Sporting Pride.

“Between them both and so many other people, the club has just taken off. We’ve had so much support and we’re really happy that it’s taking off now.”

With 100 people or so on their mailing list already, and interest garnered in all four codes, the plan is to establish one team, at least, in each. Through the early days, the focus will be on social competitions but the idea is to contest at a higher level in the future. 

The registration process is front and centre at the moment, with paperwork and conversations plentiful but the club is focused on getting it all right with an Irish language officer and welfare officer key to the committee going forward.

PNG - Na Gaeil Aeracha A view of the club's logo. Source: Na Gaeil Areacha.

“It’s not just, ‘Okay, here’s the team,’ we’re really making sure that we have so many facilities in place for people to be made feel welcome,” Loo notes, with keeping culture and tradition paramount.

“We do have huge aims and we want to be competitive and be recognised. We will be in Dublin for the moment but we’re hoping to expand right across and just know that everyone is absolutely welcome.”

That’s the key message coming from Na Gaeil Aeracha (the Gay Gaels as Béarla, or Rainbow Gaels). The tight-knit community feel is evident already, with many who walked away from sport keen to get back involved.

Many members of the LGBTQ+ community didn’t feel comfortable in sport when they were younger, whether that was down to being excluded, experiencing discrimination like homophobia or transphobia, or simply feeling like they didn’t belong.

And Loo stresses that this club is entirely inclusive and welcoming to one and all.

“From our own experiences, we noticed this, that we maybe all have experienced some discrimination in some form. It’s even important to note that some of our committee members, not everyone’s LGBTQ+ but we’ve all experienced some kind of discomfort or unwelcome-ness.

We definitely notice as well that there’s a huge drop-off rate with the LGBTQ+ community in sport.

“Homophobia and transphobia, it doesn’t just affect queer people, it affects everyone; heterosexual people as well, because it creates this environment where it’s unwelcoming. And no one wants to be a part of that if they don’t feel valued or welcomed.

We just know that we want to create a space where everyone is absolutely welcome, we’re on the same page and that there’s a mutual understanding and respect.”

Looking at Gaelic games on a wider scale, plenty of progress has been made over the past few years, particularly since the Marriage Referendum in 2015.

The GAA marched in the Dublin Pride Parade for the first time in its 36-year history, and employed a full-time diversity and inclusion officer last year, while many have spoken out and opened up — David Gough, Valerie Mulcahy, Dónal Óg Cusack and Nicole Owens a few who spring to mind, the former two holding positive meetings with GAA President John Horan.

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But there’s no doubt that discrimination still exists; swept under the carpet rather than discussed out in the open. Former Dublin footballer and current Irish rugby player Lindsay Peat is one who has revealed homophobic sledging on the pitch in the past, as has referee Gough.

“Lindsay Peat would be a role model of mine for many reasons, not just for her sporting abilities, but for what she stands for,” Loo says.

“It’s people like Lindsay; they’re high profile, they’re role models and they’ll start the conversation to make people aware that you can’t just throw these sly derogatory terms at people and try and put them off their game. It’s not acceptable.

We need them to start the conversation so people can feel comfortable in their own clothes and they can start talking about it and standing up, whether that’s a fellow player or maybe a manager to say, ‘Okay, now this isn’t on. We need to respect people and stop discriminating against them.’”

While several ladies Gaelic games players have spoken out of late and been a lot more open about their sexuality, there is no active inter-county-playing openly-gay GAA player out there.

Dublin star Owens delved deeper into that with The42 last year and explored how and why the GAA is a hetero-normative environment for men but being gay is accepted in the women’s game.

Fear is a big factor, she feels. It’s physically impossible that there are no gay players, so it’s thought that people hide their sexuality. Loo is of the same opinion, though is pleased to see openness in the ladies’ game.

“More and more, you’re just seeing people being happy to express who they are. Even the littlest things, it doesn’t have to be someone of a high profile, it could be your clubmate. That will make a huge difference. Without even knowing, you’re making a huge change.

“I think for men, maybe they just need the support of their fellow team-mates. I think they’re put at such a high standard with this masculinity that they don’t feel safe. But absolutely, we just need time and role models and visibility.”

Gough, the first openly-gay top-level GAA match official, and former Cork star Mulcahy are certainly two of those role models, paving the way as the GAA marched in the Pride Parade last year.

That was a significant step, but Na Gaeil Aeracha is even more so, undoubtedly sparking conversations across the length and breadth of the country over the past few weeks.

“We do find a balance,” Loo concludes. “We have such an overwhelming response of positivity but of course, there’s always going to be a bit of backlash, or people will have opinions about us. But we’re mostly just focusing on the positives.

“There hasn’t been an LGBTQ+ GAA club before, there’s been Emerald Warriors with rugby and Dublin Devils with soccer but we’re just focusing on how we can make a change.

“We’re just a small group but with the likes of David and Valerie, we’re getting so much support and backing and even the GAA, they’re supporting us in every way possible.

“And we’re looking forward to maybe one day marching in the Dublin Pride Parade with everyone.”

- You can find Na Gaeil Areacha on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or email them at dublinlgbtqgaa@gmail.com.

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