A History of LGBT Sports in London

First Steps

The birthplace of many of the world’s team sports and an early adherent to the Olympic movement, Britain boasts the world’s oldest culture of sporting participation, both at the amateur and professional levels.  In the 1970s, London activists launched the Gay Lib movement, giving the capital’s LGBT community a political voice and creating new ways of living “out and proud.” Among the first fruits of gay liberation were groups promoting sporting and outdoor activities, including the Goslings Swimming (1976) and Badminton Club (1987), the Sailing and Cruising Association (1980), the Long Yang Tennis and Badminton Club (1983), Hackney Women’s FC (1986), and Dykes on Bikes (1987), which provided safe environments for LGBT people to participate in sport without fear of harm or discrimination. These groups furnished the pioneering London athletes who competed at the first two Gay Games, held in San Francisco and the subsequent GGIII, in Vancouver (1990) and GGIV New York (1994).

The Golden Nineties

London’s LGBT athletes returning from the Gay Games were inspired to emulate their North American hosts and set up their own sports clubs, which multiplied throughout the decade. Among the first to be formed were the London Raiders Softball Club (1990), Out to Swim London (1990), and 4Play Squash, now OutPlay Squash (1990). In their infancy, these groups had a handful of members and met once or twice a week, but taking advantage of the free community listings in Time Out magazine, they grew steadily. The 1990s saw the London LGBT community “out” several of Britain’s traditional team sports: football, Stonewall FC (1991), South London Studs WFC (1994), and the Leftfooters FC (1999); rugby, the Kings Cross Steelers (1995); cricket, Grace’s Club (1996), and field hockey, London Remnants (1991). Other team sports represented included volleyball, the Dynamo Dykes (1992) and the London Spikers (1995),  and basketball, London Knights (1998). The Front Runners (1995) provided a home to London’s many LGBT joggers, sprinters, middle-distance, and marathon runners; CycleOut London (1996), to its racing, track, off-road, and touring cyclists; the Ishigaki Jujitsu (1996), London Amateur Wrestlers (1996), and KB Kickboxing and Kung Fu (1999), to its growing wrestling and martial arts community; Tennis London International (1995) was a welcome addition to the capital’s existing LGBT tennis, badminton, and squash clubs; Irons Golf Society (1999) finally brought one of Britain’s oldest sports into the LGBT fold; and London Xtreme (1997) became the platform for the community’s daredevil gymnasts, acrobats, and divers. London’s LGBT athletes, who attended in ever growing numbers the GG IV in New York (1994) and the GG V held in Europe for the first time in Amsterdam (1998), contributed to the setting up of two representative sporting bodies for the community: the national British Gay and Lesbian Sports Federation and Out for Sport London.

Consolidation and maturity

The new millennium saw the consolidation of London’s large and diverse LGBT sporting infrastructure, with existing clubs growing their memberships and increasing the number of weekly sessions and social activities they offered to members. With the major sports already catered for, enthusiasts joined the members of existing clubs to found teams in new sports, including two aquatic disciplines: water polo, London Orcas (2002) and synchronized swimming, Out to Swim Angels (2010); triathlon, Out to Tri (2004); sailing and rowing, GUST (2002), Orion RC (2000), and Soho RC (2010). The national sport of football continued to prove its popularity with the setting up of two new LGBT teams, including the London Titans FC (2005) and London Romans FC (2006), as well as the formation of many informal groups who meet in London’s parks for men’s, women’s, and mixed kickabouts; London added another hockey team, the London Royals (2005); and finally, with the spotlight on women’s boxing at London 2012, the capital saw the opening of the nation’s first LGBT boxing gym, the Gay Boxing Club (2010). Although London now has teams and clubs in all the sporting disciplines, it is yet to host a major international multi-sport LGBT tournament. This is not for the want of experience, however, as many of the capital’s clubs run yearly competitions and tournaments, such as Out to Swim’s GLLAM (Gay and Lesbian London Aquatics Meet), the London Frontrunners Pride 10k Run, which accommodates some 800 runners and has been voted among the top three running events in the country, and the Goslings London Sports Club International Badminton Tournament. In 2008, London organized the Gay Football World Cup, with the participation of forty national and international teams. In addition thousands of London athletes have represented their city and country at the Gay Games, Outgames, Manchester Pride Games, and EuroGames, as well as taking part in straight national and international competitions. Since London 2012, the capital can be proud to possess some of the world’s best sporting facilities, and a legacy mission committed to boosting participation in sport across the capital. But the undoubted strength of London’s LGBT sporting community is not to be found in multimillion-pound venues or government policy statements but in the dedication of thousands of LGBT athletes who, every week, run, row, cycle, swim and play their sports in parks, on pitches and courts, on the river, reservoirs, and canals, and in pools, gyms, and sports centres of the capital.

Eric Chaline

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