Skip to content

We’re here, we’re queer. Can we play?

We join the Pride month celebrations with a personal account from our development manager of volunteering on how being active has helped their mental health.

10th June 2024

by Seona Deuchar
Development manager of volunteering, Sport England

Every year, across the globe, LGBTQ+ communities and allies unite in June to mark Pride.

Whilst the celebration was created to commemorate the Stonewall riots in the early hours of 28 June 1969, Pride now spans June to September with cities, towns and whole countries celebrating their queer communities across the summer. 

Reflecting on Martha P. Johnston, who is widely remembered as the person who started the Pride movement, her wise words come to mind – “the more self-esteem you have, the more power you have” – and the profound impact sports and physical activity have had on my self esteem.

As a plus-sized, disabled, bisexual, non-binary, clumsy person growing up, I hated PE.

Existing as a self-conscious teenager was exhausting. Even writing that list of descriptors was exhausting!

I didn’t see myself in any sports role models and I wanted to hide. This went on until I was 22 years old.

I’d been diagnosed with a variety of health issues and felt that physical activity wasn’t something I deserved without a healthy dose of self-deprecation.

I was also intensely jealous of my friends, especially my brother and best friend as both of them played rugby – my favourite sport.

And then, my local team posted in a Facebook group about an open session to come and try rugby.

Reflecting on Martha P. Johnston, her wise words come to mind – "the more self-esteem you have, the more power you have” – and the profound impact sports and physical activity have had on my self-esteem.

Reader, I did it!

I picked up my bright pink running trainers, slapped a big fake smile on and went down to the local rugby pitch on a cold Thursday night.

It was the best night ever.

On that pitch I found myself surrounded by powerful women. A lot of them queer, no two bodies the same and other non-binary players.

I was assigned female at birth and don’t take any hormones, so “women's” sport made the most sense as a space for me, a space in which I was also welcomed.

The many benefits of physical activity 

Rugby and other physical activities since have been fantastic for my wellbeing, physical and mental.

Being surrounded by people who want to play brought me back a sense of joy and fun.

I had a social circle, time outside and space to get out of my head and learn how to connect with my body in a new way.

Sport saved me from a negative cycle of hurt and inactivity and it’s no surprise this happened.

Research has repeatedly shown the positive impacts of physical activity on our wellbeing, both physical and mental.

Specific research on group activity for LGBTQ+ people was conducted a few years ago by the University of Glasgow and published in the British Journal of Nursing and the conclusions were overwhelming.

Exercising with peers represents a healthier way to meet people and has a transformative impact on all aspects of LGBTQ+ people’s health.

With mental health issues so prevalent amongst the LGBTQ+ community (half of LGBTIQ+ people had experienced depression and three in five had experienced anxiety), we must create as many opportunities as possible for LGBTQ+ to engage in physical activity.

Whatever that looks like for you, the benefits are obvious for everybody.

For me, just being able to exist in my body without judgement and meet other queer people, without it being because of our queerness, has been life-changing. And I’m not just saying that.

So, this Pride month, I invite you to reflect on what you will say the next time someone comes to you and says, “I’m here, I’m queer. Can I play?”

Sign up to our newsletter

You can find out exactly how we'll look after your personal data, but rest assured we’ll only use it to make sure you receive our newsletter, to understand how you interact with our newsletter, and to provide administrative information about our newsletter.