Fate presents us with a unique opportunity

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Last month the first all-inclusive LGBTQ+ cricket game anywhere in the world was due to take place in Birmingham, England. At the Unicorns, we were ready. As the new kids on the block, we knew we were entering unchartered territory against the well established Graces Cricket Club from London, but we have built a unique culture and understanding already, and we were ready to step onto the park and play.

Fast forward only a few days, and the sun is shining, and the forecast looks positive for the weeks ahead. Hard work and fixture juggling see Graces come back to Birmingham in June, the week after our inaugural match against the Warwickshire Cricket Board. Later in the month, we welcome Lapworth Cricket Club. Three fixtures in Pride Month, a time to celebrate, reflect on progress for the LGBTQ+ community, and campaign for further equality and rights, both in the UK and globally have been fate and allow making progress in a way we didn’t plan.

Establishing the Unicorns was as much for me as it was for the community. It was partly about finding a home for me, enabling me to feel even more at ease in the sport that has become such a key part of my life. It has been a journey that has surprised me and given me the freedom to be myself, in incremental steps, within the game more widely, including playing league cricket for Weoley Hill Cricket Club, my other home.

Molly and I watching cricket at Weoley Hill — May 2021

I’m still looking for the words and courage to articulate some of this change but it has been significant.

This journey is something I am still working out, navigating through different emotions, feelings and interactions. There are steps forward and some back, but progress is tangible and real.

Warwickshire cricket has been incredibly supportive of our approach and the emergence of the club. Welcoming them as our first opponent feels like cementing a bridge between cricket in Birmingham and Warwickshire and the community. Cricket hasn’t always been a welcoming sport for LGBTQ+ people, and there is work still to do, but only a year ago, I would never have imagined a County club and board being such proactive partners in opening the sport up. Training with Paul Farbrace and Mark Robinson, two outstanding international coaches, has resulted in considerable improvements in skills and confidence for many of our players. The time taken to nurture and guide players in one short session has made a profound impact. Additional opportunities to celebrate and promote the club have been welcomed.

Doing media interviews, I’m often asked why does an LGBTQ+ team need to be established; surely this isn’t an issue anymore?

For many in the LGBTQ+ community, playing cricket and being out at their club can go hand in hand, and they excel in the game, although evidence shows that this has not always translated to the professional game. For others, though, to overcome low confidence, bad previous experiences and feelings of shame or to try the sport out for the first time can be best achieved in an environment where they know they don’t have to come out, be questioned or ridiculed about their sexuality.

At Unicorns, we have a growing membership base of both players and supporters. Like Graces, we have members from across the LGBTQ+ community, including allies, those who want to make the game better and more welcoming for everyone.

We have welcomed new and returning players, some of whom have had unwelcoming experiences playing club cricket. Being singled out because of your sexuality or gender identity is commonplace. Experiences for the trans community are often particularly negative. The Unicorns have helped provide a place for them to train and play, and I have been humbled by the way everyone has joined with each other and become part of a team and are producing a wider inclusive club culture.

So we enter June full of optimism, optimistic that we are creating space for the LGBTQ+ community in cricket. Perhaps one day, clubs like the Unicorns and Graces won’t be needed anymore, but for now, we play a role, providing another route into cricket, proving it is needed through the growth in membership numbers alone.

I encourage anyone to join us on this journey. Sport is for all; it can impact lives and communities in such positive ways.

In time we, along with Graces and others, will foster the environment needed for LGBTQ+ players to play openly at all levels of the game in England. But first, as Unicorns, we take to the field on Sunday to play cricket together.

Whatever the result, the fact that we are out there playing is a remarkable achievement, and I, for one, am very proud.

Reflections on LGBTQ+ life and experiences playing club cricket in England — the only Aussie + gay cricketer at the club! Contact: lachlantsmith@gmail.com