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To call 2020 a year that has been disruptive to our everyday lifestyles would be an understatement. For the majority of this year we’ve all had to make huge sacrifices by social distancing and self isolating in order to protect the most vulnerable in our community from suffering at the hands of a novel virus. For most LGBTQ+ people it meant being physically disconnected from their friendship and support groups for a prolonged period of time.

Prathit Ranotra originally sought out LGBTQ+ rowing group the London Otters to make friends with new people outside of the queer nightlife space. He wanted platonic connection and this sporting group offered him just that. London Otters are just one of many LGBTQ+ groups that Pride Sports supports. As part of a new campaign between GAY TIMES and Voltarol, we are spotlighting some of the LGBTQ+ sports groups that Pride Sports empowers, and how they are helping members of our community to keep active, stay connected and feel proud of who they are no matter what sporting environment they are walking into.

While Pride Sports does remarkable work empowering local groups, they themselves also need support to keep offering the great service they provide. It’s why GSK Consumer Healthcare has made a substantial donation to the organisation, as part of their ongoing commitment to supporting, celebrating and raising awareness of the LGBTQ+ community. As one of the most prominent healthcare companies in the world, GSK has continually lent their commitment to bettering the lives of LGBTQ+ people. Allies are crucial in our journey towards true liberation, and their support can help push forward real change. As a healthcare company, GSK has a special purpose to help people do more, feel better and live longer.

“I really wanted to make more gay friends but in a non-sexualised setting,” Prathit says. “I searched on the internet to find inclusive sport groups, and that’s how I found the London Otters. You are basically joining group of twenty other gay guys who are also in the same boat as you – literally! None of them know how to row, so you learn to row with all of them.” Based on the Royal Docks in East London, the Otters welcome rowers of all ability levels, from beginner to experienced. Their Senior Squad is for those who are of a higher ability, the Novice Squad for those with some experience who want to build up their strength and technique, and then the Social Squad for the more casual rower. They train weekly on the River Thames, and enter regattas and races across the south-east of the United Kingdom.

While it’s a great way to keep fit, and channel some of that competitive mentality from within, it’s also an inclusive and welcoming group for LGBTQ+ people to join. “Some of the people that I have met through the Otters, they are my best friends,” says Prathit. “The support that has been provided by these friends that I have made has been the kind of support that I never actually had since I’ve been an out gay man.” One of the London Otters Rowing Club’s main values is that of teamwork. It’s within these social structures that you benefit from the most robust support system, which is invaluable for queer individuals looking for likeminded people.

Through this campaign and because of their significant donation to Pride Sports, GSK is helping groups like London Otters to continue being a safe and social space for LGBTQ+ rowers. As we’ve mentioned before, GSK continues to proactively support and platform LGBTQ+ people by investing in their experiences and ensuring their existence isn’t overlooked. Diversity and inclusion isn’t a project for them, it’s built into the very fibre of their company. This isn’t a one-off campaign for GSK, but rather the start of a long-term commitment to serve and support LGBTQ+ consumers and the community.

“This partnership not only brings us an opportunity to engage with the LGBTQ+ community but also to support the community group Pride Sports who have introduced us to the individuals featured in these films,” says Louise Vincer, Digital & Marketing Acceleration Director, GBI, GSK Consumer Healthcare. “Shot on location using user-generated content, the films are designed to express people’s renewed love of the great outdoors and the joy they find in activity & movement. Spectrum, GSKs LGBTQ+ employee resource group, will also be more broadly supporting the Pride Sports organisation and individual sports clubs.”

This year, more than any before it, has highlighted the importance of support systems. LGBTQ+ sporting groups like London Otters Rowing Club can offer people looking for connection and community. “My mental health is definitely far better than it was before I was a part of the Otters,” admits Prathit. With lockdown rules slightly easing, the rowers are back on the Thames and training harder than ever before. And if you have a new perspective on life following the events of 2020, they are more than happy to welcome you into their group.