“When I step onto the pitch I feel accepted, I feel like this is my kingdom,” says professional rugby player Megan Jones. “It’s a sense of euphoria.”
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 Ugo meet fans, coaches, and even professional players like Megan and Celia Quansah to demonstrate the heartwarming impact rugby has had on their lives.
As well as being teammates on the England Sevens team, Megan and Celia are also in a relationship. “She genuinely sees the beauty in life,” Megan says. While Megan’s favourite thing about Celia is her “big smile”, Celia loves the way Megan can always make her laugh. “With [Megan] by my side, we’ll always get out the other side,” she explains. “We just get each other.” Their relationship may have blossomed after spending time together on and off the pitch, but rugby wasn’t always on the cards for the couple.
Growing up with a British gymnast for a sister and rugby and football-loving brothers, Celia spent her childhood in gymnasiums and on athletics tracks before discovering her love for rugby at university. Megan, however, fell in love with the sport much earlier – she started playing at age six – but it took some convincing from her mum until her dad agreed to it. “She always had that mindset of, ‘If you want to do anything, go out and do it’,” Megan explains. “It was important to have her in that conversation then because I wouldn’t be where I am now.”
Not only has rugby provided Megan and Celia with a relationship and the opportunity to travel the world, but in what they describe to Ugo as one of their best moments, the couple even represented Team GB at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. But despite this, their journeys haven’t always been smooth sailing.
“People look at rugby and they think it’s a masculine sport, and if you play the game you must be gay,” Megan says. Over the years she’s become used to hearing comments about her sexuality or comparing her to a man, but now she flips the negative into a positive: “Being a lesbian is fully a part of who I am, and I really wear that on my sleeve… This game doesn’t care who you are, you are never better than anyone else on that pitch.”
In Celia’s case, she hadn’t explored her sexuality until she began playing rugby, but now she sees the game as a unique way to express herself. “It just gives you that normality, the ability to feel like you can be yourself,” she says. “It can bring so much out of you in a positive way… It allows you to be you.”
After hearing that Celia explored her artistic side in lockdown, Ugo sets the girls a different kind of challenge on the pitch: involving paint, a canvas and a 15-minute time limit. Once they finish, he presents Megan and Celia with a unity ball – a lasting emblem of our campaign – with its own panel dedicated to the couple’s trailblazing contributions to 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 sport. But we’re not alone in our mission, as championing inclusivity and accessibility to the game is a top priority for Megan and Celia, too.
“If you can’t see it, you genuinely can’t be it,” Celia says. “We can’t just have the same faces again and again on big billboards.” While Celia may have had role models to look up to growing up – and the unwavering support of her family – she’s aware that it’s not the same case for everyone, especially LGBTQIA+ people. “If we can be those role models, then that’s part of my job done.”
“The biggest thing is leaving the sport in a better place… and hopefully being able to inspire the young girls that look like me to go out and go for their dreams.”
Here at GAY TIMES, we have actively worked to make the sporting world accessible and inclusive for the LGBTQ+ 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 LGBTQ+ community, whose lives have been positively impacted by rugby.
Watch the full Channel 4, VoltarolNaturals and GAY TIMES video below.