Rugby international Lindsay Peat, one of the country’s most versatile female athletes who has represented Ireland in three different sports, has revealed that she was once the subject of homophobic sledging in an All-Ireland ladies football final.
Speaking at the launch of the 2019 Union Cup — Europe’s biggest LGBT+ inclusive rugby tournament — Peat said that gay female athletes suffer far less discrimination and abuse than their male counterparts.
“You could argue we don’t need a women’s tournament or gay women’s teams because we haven’t experienced that much negativity, but I would still have experienced it,” said Peat.
I was once called a ‘dirty dyke’ in an All-Ireland final. That’s the only time I heard that and I don’t actually think it was genuinely homophobic or a dig at my sexual orientation. It was used to get under my skin, to try to distract and disrupt my game, but that’s where she went. That’s what she viewed as my weak point.
“Other people suffer much worse slurs, even in sport, and this is still a worldwide issue. This tournament is so important for that reason.”
Ireland is hosting the Union Cup on June 7-9 in DCU and the event will include women’s teams for the first time.
Ireland does not yet have a female equivalent to the tournament hosts Emerald Warriors, Ireland’s only openly gay men’s rugby club.
Peat has played basketball, soccer, and rugby for Ireland and also contested three senior All-Ireland Gaelic football finals with Dublin, winning one.
She is one of many openly gay, high-profile Irish female athletes but it took her a long time to accept her identity. She admitted that “in the past I’ve said ‘I’m not gay’ to a teammate.
“I didn’t come out to my family and close friends until my 30th birthday and I never properly came out to my friends on the Dublin team. It was different when I joined Railway Union, they knew I had a wife. Things had changed for me by then.”
Peat believes that’s why there is still a necessity for gay women’s teams, “for people who are really struggling with their identity, to help them to become accepting of themselves and their sexuality, whatever they feel that is.
“Sport was definitely key in helping me to become more comfortable in myself. You probably can’t understand that unless you’re from the LGBT community,” she added.
“The Emerald Warriors play in a team and at a level that is comfortable for them. We must remember there’s still a very high level of suicide among young gay men and that’s not going to go away because we say ‘there’s enough being done’. There’s still a lot to do.”
World Cup referee Nigel Owens will officiate the Union Cup final and, like Peat, is an ambassador for the event.
He admitted he was “very scared to come out in the macho world of rugby.
I honestly thought I would have to chose; either to live my life as a gay man which might mean giving up rugby, or continue to referee rugby but live my life as a lie.
I honestly thought I would have to make that decision but thankfully I didn’t. Nobody should have to make that choice, in any sport or any industry.
“There is unfortunately still a minority of people out there who make it difficult for people to be themselves,” said Owens.
“That’s why it is important that there are clubs like the Emerald Warriors across the world breaking down these barriers.”
The Union Cup was founded in France in 2005 and this year’s tournament will be the biggest to date, expected to attract 45 teams from 15 countries, including its first women’s participants.
Emerald Warriors RFC, who finished seventh at last year’s gay World Championships (the Bingham Cup), were founded in 2003 and field two teams in Leinster’s Metro League, where they reached a Division 9 final this season.
The Warriors stress that their team is not exclusively gay and is open to everyone. They have straight players and officials and the Union Cup has a similarly inclusive remit and is officially supported by the IRFU.
Union Cup chairman Richie Fagan said Emerald Warriors hope to assemble and enter a women’s team as well as several men’s sides.
He said that Sport England’s 2016 finding that only 17% of LGBT people were members of a sports club was “truly shocking”.
The same study found that 84% of gay men and 82% of gay women had experienced homophobic insults while participating in sport.