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“When I quit dancing, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen with my life. I knew that I was passionate about theatre, but I never thought that I’d be playing sports,” Sam Biscoe, chairperson of inclusive rugby team the Colchester Kings, says. “I want this team to be for everybody.”

As much as rugby is about the tackles, the scrums, and often, the mud, like any sport it’s nothing without the people playing it. But for decades historic barriers have left many in the LGBTQIA+ community at the touchlines unable to join in, whether in the form of discrimination, harmful stereotypes, or a lack of representation across the field. 

Together with Channel 4 and VoltarolNaturals, GAY TIMES is encouraging communities who have felt excluded from rugby to feel empowered to take up their rightful spot in the game. To do this, we’ve created four films, each spotlighting a different perspective of someone in the community whose life has been enriched by the sport. Featuring English rugby legend and former Harlequins star Ugo Monye, the series sees Monye meet fans, players and coaches like Biscoe to demonstrate the heartwarming impact rugby has had on their lives.

“I had a fairly typical high school experience with bullies and kids that weren’t terribly nice,” Biscoe recalls. Sitting alongside his parents, he remembers the moment he dropped his drama GCSE because of class bullies, specifically a moment when a rugby ball was thrown at his face. Soon after, he turned his attention to dancing, from tap and ballet to jazz and contemporary. “It definitely gave me a safe space I didn’t really understand at that age that I needed,” Biscoe says. “Just to be in a room and to move around without being told, ‘You’re gay!’”

Biscoe’s passion for theatre and dance led to a career in performing on cruise ships for almost a decade. However, during rehearsals for a once-in-a-lifetime contract performing in Australia and New Zealand, Sam received a call from his mum, where she revealed his dad had been diagnosed with leukaemia. Despite his parents urging him to stay on the ship, he broke his contract and returned home, ending his dance career in the process. 

“I was immediately terrified. Everything you know about cancer is that people get cancer and they die. I just assumed that he wouldn’t be around for much longer,” Biscoe says. After reassuring his teary dad that his diagnosis didn’t ruin his career, Biscoe looks back on the time he set up the Colchester Kings upon returning home: “I was worried that absolutely nobody would turn up. And then at our first session, there were 30 people, which was just unheard of, so there was clearly a need for something for our community in Colchester… It’s something special for us.”

Although he believes that men’s rugby has taken big strides in developing an inclusive culture, Monye points out that the responsibility for LGBTQIA+ representation in the game lies with the heterosexual community. “In order for the heterosexual community to be more understanding of it, you need to engage with the gay community,” he says. “Take advice, understand, and learn a bit better.”

After bonding over dance, Monye’s stint on Strictly Come Dancing in 2021 and the shared techniques that rugby and dance require, Monye and Biscoe turn their attention to inclusivity in the game. Explaining that the Colchester Kings has been home to feminine, masculine, and transgender players, Biscoe points out that the same can’t be said for other teams. “We know so many teams locally that would describe themselves as welcoming to anybody, but there hasn’t necessarily been a space for queer people,” he says. “So they’re welcoming, but are they representative? And that’s something different.” 

With rugby stereotypically perceived as a masculine game, Biscoe details how he struggles with relating to traditional restrictive notions of masculinity. “To me, being a man or being masculine is about caring for other people and making sure that everybody’s okay – which doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not feminine either,” he explains, claiming that he gets his “motherly instinct” from his dad. “That’s what we’re trying to create – a community of people that want to help and look after each other.”

Monye goes on to highlight how stereotypically masculine behaviours have become ingrained into the sport: “You’re not meant to show weakness, you don’t want the opposition to feel that you’re struggling. So putting this veneer that you’ve forever got it together, that you’re strong and impenetrable… It’s something that you have to develop, but it can numb your emotional side because it becomes a learned behaviour.”

Monye congratulates Biscoe on being an “incredible example for how every single rugby club can be run”, and along with his Colchester Kings players, wishes him a happy birthday on the pitch. As well as presenting Biscoe with a birthday cake (which later, in true rugby style, gets rubbed in his face) Monye presents him with a unity ball – a lasting emblem of our campaign – with its own panel dedicated to Biscoe and his work in the sport. Besides amplifying our message that we’re all stronger in rugby as one, the unity ball is a reflection of the dedicated work GAY TIMES, Channel 4 and VoltarolNaturals are doing to break down the stigma that prevents LGBTQIA+ people from getting involved in the game. 

Through teary eyes, Biscoe delivers a heartfelt speech thanking his players for making the Colchester Kings possible and for championing LGBTQIA+ representation in the sport: “Thank you for making 100 plus of us into a big rugby family,” one of his players responds after a loving team hug. “You’re special to every one of us, Sam.” 

Here at GAY TIMES, we have actively worked to make the sporting world accessible and inclusive for the LGBTQIA+ community. Our partnership with VoltarolNaturals has enabled us to platform marginalised voices in the community to open up discussions of the importance of inclusive and safe spaces for the community. This year, we’ve teamed up with VoltarolNaturals and Channel 4 to create a four-part series that spotlight the different perspectives of those in the LGBTQIA+ community, whose lives have been positively impacted by rugby. 

Watch the full Channel 4, VoltarolNaturals and GAY TIMES video below.