As the BKT United Rugby Championship celebrates inclusivity and diversity with its Unity Round and the players lace up their boots in rainbow colours, we share the story of one of our Safety Stewards - John Le Marchant Dane.
As part of the URC’s Take On Tomorrow programme, and the wider ambition to promote inclusion in sport, Round Two of the competition is dedicated to inclusivity in sport with support of the Stonewall Rainbow Laces campaign and a commitment to ensuring our games are viewed as a welcome space for every person to enjoy.
John has been a Safety Steward at Cardiff Arms Park during the past two years and approached us to share his positive experience.
He has been surprised by the welcome, friendship and support he has received at Cardiff Rugby and wanted to tell his story to help dispel any potential stereotypes and barriers, proving rugby, particularly at the Arms Park is a place for all people, of all backgrounds and beliefs.
“I've been working here for two years now,” reflected John. “Cardiff Arms Park is a really surprisingly supportive community, I've found, as a trans person.
“I didn't expect to be welcomed in the way that I was into the team and by the people, it's been a really good experience. I've never felt ostracised or like I wasn't being treated like everyone else and I've always felt like part of the team.
“When I started at Cardiff Arms Park, I hadn't started my medical transition yet so I didn't look like a man. I never felt like I was being thought of any differently than any of the other guys working here. I never had people telling me that I was a girl or anything despite the fact that I looked different, I sounded different.
“I wasn't very confident because of that. I went through my transition while working here and it was an uncomfortable time. When you go on testosterone you basically go through puberty again but I was really supported through all of that.
“There were times when I was not in the best physical or mental health as a result of my transition and I always felt like everyone I was working with was 100% behind me and would support me no matter what I needed.”
John wanted to tell his story to ensure that others felt comfortable enough to engage with the sport and disprove stereotypes that may be targeted towards rugby in general.
By coincidence, he approached the club following last week’s game against Benetton and with just a week until the Unity Round, there was no time to waste.
He continued “The only interaction with rugby fans or rugby players I'd had was at school, when they were bullies. I came into this job kind of expecting something similar, and the fact that I haven't experienced anything discriminatory at all was really surprising at first and has made me feel really optimistic about the state of things in the UK.
“The stereotypes about sport and about rugby being a really homophobic and transphobic place just aren't true.
“When you go somewhere in person and interact with people, it's really friendly. It can get a bit intense at times when the competition gets close but it's always really exciting, it really gets you pumped up.
“I’ve not really been a rugby fan before, but standing in the crowd and interacting with people who are really excited about the game has convinced me to pay a bit more attention to what's going on in the pitch and perhaps be a bit more of a fan.
“It's such a positive experience and the atmosphere here does genuinely feel like everyone's appreciated and welcome.
“If you're open and confident and proudly LGBT - you will find that other people will flock to you. I've had people come up to me on match days and thank me for wearing my pronoun badges and being openly transgender because it makes them feel more included and more welcome at the stadium and in rugby.
“It is a more inclusive sport and a more inclusive community than we're led to believe and if you show up and take part and be yourself openly and proudly then it will become even more inclusive over time.”
Speaking specifically about the importance of the URC Unity Round and supporting Stonewall UK’s Rainbow Laces Campaign, John gave some final words.
“It makes me feel a lot more welcome here at the stadium when I'm talking about sport and rugby to people.
“I’m not particularly sporty myself, but I know that there are LGBT kids out there who are going to be really encouraged by this and who won't necessarily have thought that this could be their future, that they could play rugby, that they could become involved in clubs and supporting rugby teams.
“But these kinds of initiatives are what help build that interest in younger communities and give a bit of hope to LGBT kids who are interested in rugby already and who might otherwise think that they have to sacrifice their interests or their identity in order to be happy.”
As part of the club’s equality, diversity and inclusion policy we aim to create an environment, which is safe and welcoming to all, while plans are now being made to deliver further specialist inclusivity training to staff in partnership with Stonewall UK.
Cardiff Rugby Stadium Manager Jamie Muir said: “Ensuring safety isn't just about managing the game, the crowd or the stadium - it's about fostering a team environment where everyone, regardless of background, feels equipped with the right skills and training and supported on a personal level.
“We want to provide the same support and care for our staff as we do for our players. Seeing John's confidence flourish in the past two years has been brilliant and embodies the spirit of inclusivity we champion at Cardiff Rugby.
“Our goal is not just a safe and secure Cardiff Rugby, but a family where everyone can thrive and become the best version of themselves."