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As we navigated our new normal during lockdown, many of us looked towards a new hobby to seek solace. Whether it was baking, writing, or even escaping to a whole new reality on a deserted island in Animal Crossing, we craved something to give us a focus on anything but that dreaded virus. So it will come as little surprise that LGBTQ+ cycling group PRiDE OUT experienced a huge surge in new members wanting to join.

When lockdown restrictions first started to ease, cycling with friends was one of the more safe ways to remain active without putting yourself or others at risk of acquiring COVID-19. “As we went into lockdown we set up nine additional Facebook groups and 2,000 people have joined those in the last few months alone,” says Richard Hearne, who founded PRiDE OUT. They 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.

Pride Sports has established itself as a key organisation supporting LGBTQ+ people through sports, both through directly organised events and through their engagement with thousands of independent clubs across the country. Voltarol and the wider GSK Consumer Healthcare team are partnering with Pride Sports to help make this impact even greater, working together to provide a range of resources, training and direct consultancies to help clubs through these challenging times. It’s part of GSK’s ongoing commitment to supporting, celebrating and raising awareness of the LGBTQ+ community, as one of the most prominent healthcare companies in the world. Allies are crucial in our journey towards liberation, and their support can help push forward real change. It ties back to GSK’s overall purpose to help people do more, feel better and live longer.

“I started cycling seriously in 2015,” Richard explains. “After the first year I started searching for LGBT cycling groups and there weren’t any, so I decided I was going to do something about that and build PRiDE OUT. It’s inclusive, friendly and welcoming.” PRiDE OUT is a multi-regional cycling group for LGBTQ+ people and allies that welcomes anyone to join, regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, age or ability. Membership can be as little as £3 a month or just £25 for the year. The group has different events that include scenic routes across the UK for keen cyclists as a way to keep active, be social and enjoy the great outdoors in a way that isn’t possible with many other sporting activities. “It was an opportunity to get out of the house in a way that felt safe,” says Richard, acknowledging that cycling in particular has been one of the more responsible ways to get outside during this global pandemic.

This was particularly true for Zoe Wibble who needed a physical activity that not only energised her body, but also her mind and soul. “For me, especially during lockdown, cycling has been important for my mental health,” she says. “One of the hardest things was not feeling like I could connect with my community during Pride Month. That’s where Pride Out sort of came in.”  Sam Reyani agrees, adding: “It’s a really supportive network and it found its strength during lockdown.”

Through this campaign and because of their ongoing partnership with Pride Sports, GSK is helping groups like PRiDE OUT to continue being a safe and social space for LGBTQ+ cyclists. 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.”

The importance of keeping active can never be overstated – especially after what we’ve all been through this year. As Jen Lemmon says, joining PRiDE OUT gave her the opportunity to enjoy some “freedom, a bit of sun, some time to think”. Connection and community is just as vital, and so groups like PRiDE OUT can serve as a lifeline for LGBTQ+ people suffering from loneliness, stress or anxiety. It removes the idea that having an active lifestyle can only revolve around being in a gym. Their members leave feeling revitalised and happy. As Sam Reyani says: “It’s been one of the best highlights of my year so far.”