LGBT+ Inclusivity in Roller Derby

This February was LGBT+ History Month in the UK. The aim is to increase the visibility of LGBT+ people, their history, lives and their experiences. It raises awareness on matters affecting the LGBT+ community, working to make educational and other institutions safe spaces for all LGBT+ communities.

The theme this year was Peace, Activism and Reconciliation. The website states “The theme this year is of such great importance, exploring LGBT+ activism in the year marking 50 years since the Stonewall Riots, a pivotal moment in LGBT+ rights and history. It is crucial that the struggles and fights of others, to give us the lives we have today, are recognised. It is also so important that we understand the fights that are still continuing to happen, and still need to happen, to give folk liberation and peace.”

Within KRG we are constantly striving to make our league as welcoming and inclusive of LGBT+ members as we can. We follow the current WFTDA gender inclusion policy and always encourage our members to let us know how we can improve their experience. We’re a work in progress but after interviewing a few of our LGBT+ members, we’re proud to share a few of the responses we received.

Dunks, a rec league member who identifies as queer, came out a long time before joining roller derby. “I came out of the womb holding a pride flag!” says Dunks, however after joining KRG they felt comfortable enough to start exploring other aspects of their identity. “I have met more gender non-conforming people through roller derby, which has probably helped me to embrace my gender non-conforming side myself.”

When asked about what they think makes roller derby such an LGBT+ friendly space, they replied, “I think roller derby’s ‘outsider’ status in the sports world, and the fact it was a grassroots DIY movement which involved a lot of queer, feminist women from the outset, means that it is a beacon for outsiders, queers, and generally cool people.”

Main league skater Trix agrees, “Roller derby is like a magnet for misfits, it attracts people who feel like they don’t fit in normal society, like people who don’t fit in with ‘regular sports’ they are drawn to it as its a space to explore and learn with like-minded people. I think it’s ultimately so inclusive because it was started by women unlike all other sports, and now it has developed and grown and is probably the most inclusive sport around today.”

All Stars (our A Team) jammer Ali is another one of our league’s non-binary members and has shared with us that they have experienced negativity surrounding their gender expression in their everyday life. They believe the reason roller derby is so inclusive is down to the diversity in the backgrounds of the people involved.

One of our skaters, who prefers to remain anonymous, identifies as bisexual. Even though she is not ‘out’ to many people, other than close friends and family, she has still had negative reactions to her sexuality. When asked if roller derby had helped her to be more open about her own identity, she replied, “Yes, [it’s] encouraged me to tell my parents.”

Trix transferred to KRG last year, she identifies as bisexual/queer and has explained some of the struggles she has faced. “I think people are commonly judged or brushed aside as not being part of the LGBT movement if they are bi and in a relationship with the opposite sex; sometimes it’s hard not to internalize this too.” Being part of KRG has helped her to love herself more and “also appreciate the importance of support from others.”

“In roller derby you can’t really hide anything about yourself because you react purely by instinct and intuition, you spend hours a day training under a great deal of pressure with a team full of people, so I think once you are in deep it just makes you definitely feel a lot more free to be unapologetically yourself.”

Jenna, who has been with KRG for nearly 8 years, also identifies as bisexual/pansexual and has experienced similar bi-phobia in her everyday life. “As a bisexual woman I find that people often decide my identity for me, based on the assumed gender of my current partner. I find the people I’ve met through roller derby to be much more open and accepting of the fluidity of sexuality. Since we spend so much time training together it’s really refreshing to not have to hide any part of myself.”

Accepting your own identity can be a struggle for many LGBT+ people. Shep is the current All Stars captain and told us about their experience of ‘coming out’ not once but twice. “I originally came out as a lesbian 13 years ago, but meeting a variety of people through roller derby has helped to me to better express my gender identity and sexuality… it turns out that both are part of a much bigger spectrum than I could ever have imagined at 14!”

“[Roller derby has] given me the confidence to start using my non-binary title at work and even to put my pronouns on my email footer! It sounds like such an insignificant thing, but it really has given me the courage to be unapologetically queer.”

One of our cross-over skaters, who plays for both A and B teams, identifies as lesbian and asexual. She says, “I don’t really have a ‘coming out’ story. I don’t see why an LGBT person should have to come out if a straight person doesn’t. All people need to know is that I am me, and that should be enough. It’s pretty obvious when you get to know me, and possibly more obvious now that I do roller derby, because I’m more comfortable in myself.”

She adds, “The ethos of roller derby is ‘by the skater, for the skater’, and this extends to supporting and accepting each other.”

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El, a skater in our Knightmares (B Team), identifies as gay/queer and came out at a young age, “I came out as gay when I was 12, but then experimented with boys so came out again as bi – at that time a lot of people assumed I was straight. Then I came out again (!) in my early 20s as gay.” She thinks our governing body the WFTDA has a lot to do with the inclusivity of the sport, “There are a lot of like-minded people in derby. Plus the genuine inclusivity within the sport, such as the gender policy which includes trans and gender expansive individuals, helps create an environment where people feel they can be who they are with no judgement.”

Two of our brand new members in rec league, Mitch and Pav wanted to take part in this article too to tell us about themselves and their first impressions of KRG. Mitch is non-binary and has found everyone to be “friendly and accepting” and even though they have only just started they say it seems inclusive. Pav identifies as bisexual/pansexual and has been ‘out’ in all aspects of his life for a long time, he says “So far I’ve seen plenty of pride flags/stickers and everyone seems pretty happy with gender neutral pronoun usage. I’ve been involved a few months now and everyone is friendly and supportive.”

When asked what advice our skaters would give to LGBT+ people thinking about trying roller derby, everyone was in agreement:

“Definitely give it a go!” – El

Go for it, you’ll meet lots of cool people and make lots of friends, both queers and allies.” – Dunks

Do it. You’ll be welcomed with open arms. Regardless of gender, sexuality etc.” – Anonymous

Don’t doubt it just come and try it. It’s an incredibly safe sport!” – Ali

Get involved you’ll enjoy it.“ – Mitch

I would say go for it, it’s an inclusive space, nobody it going to judge you based on anything other than your attitude to learning and your dedication to the team.” – Trix

Do it!!!! That’s the advice I’d give to anyone who wants to try roller derby.” – Anonymous

Why not come and see our skaters in action? We’ll be taking on London Rockin’ Rollers on April 6th at our home venue The Bay Sports Arena. Get your tickets online now for discount!

Photos by Steve @ Shooterz.co.uk from our game against Dundee Roller Derby.

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