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Inclusive sports clubs Inverness Craig Dunain, Ness City Rollers and Cairngorms Pride Paddlers talk about the importance of being inclusive to the LGBTQ+ community


By Andrew Henderson

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Sports clubs in and around Inverness say it is important to show that they are inclusive to the LGBTQ+ community.

Festival Fortnight, run by LGBTQ+ sports charity Leap Sports Scotland, is well under way for 2024 with 16 events on the calendar this year – quadruple the total of 2023.

There are a range of events, from relatively leisurely walk and coffee events to taster sessions for people to try out a new sport, or go along to a new club for the first time.

Some are taking part in Festival Fortnight for the first time, like rugby club Inverness Craig Dunain who have entered a partnership with Leap Sports in recent months.

“As partners we are offering come and try sessions so that people who are new to the sport can come along and get involved,” ICD co-secretary Maureen McDonald explained.

Inverness Craig Dunain RFC turned out in force at the LGBTQ+ panel discussion event Seen and Heard earlier this year. Picture: James Mackenzie
Inverness Craig Dunain RFC turned out in force at the LGBTQ+ panel discussion event Seen and Heard earlier this year. Picture: James Mackenzie

“For the team it’s really important that we show an inclusive culture. We know there are players who identify as bisexual, gay or lesbian, and it would be good to show that outwards a bit more.

“We are a really inclusive team no matter how you identify. There is a stigma around rugby being quite a harsh, manly sport, so the fact that we have a women’s team that has allies within it I think is really important.

“It’s fantastic to have Leap as a partner with the team to promote that inclusive culture because it breaks down the barriers and stigma around a sport such as rugby.

“Inclusion is also around fitness – and rugby is a game for anyone and everyone, and that’s lovely.”

While mainstream sports like rugby are represented in the Festival Fortnight calendar, there are also some more niche activities on the go.

The likes of disc golf and bike polo are back on the agenda, as are newcomers Ness City Rollers – a roller skating group that is growing in popularity with every passing session.

“As a group, we've always had a high percentage of LGBTQ+ members,” social media, recruitment and player representative Ailsa Davie reasoned.

“Since changing from a roller derby team to a quad skating group we've seen an increase in participation from trans people and people with chronic illnesses, some of whom have stated they were uncomfortable with the nature of roller derby as a contact sport.

The Ness City Rollers are hosting multiple come and try sessions on Saturday, June 29 at Inverness Leisure Centre.
The Ness City Rollers are hosting multiple come and try sessions on Saturday, June 29 at Inverness Leisure Centre.

“We want to make our club as inclusive and accessible as possible and hope that by running free taster sessions as part of an LGBTQ+ festival, we will encourage people to try skating who might otherwise feel nervous or uncomfortable joining our group.

“LGBTQ+ people, and particularly trans people, are more likely to experience poor health outcomes and mental health issues.

“Exercise can benefit both physical and mental health, however many LGBTQ+ people are uncomfortable attending sports groups. Trans people particularly are often worried about joining sports groups for fear of discrimination.

“It is important to us to create a space where everyone feels comfortable and confident accessing physical activity and part of this is ensuring we are actively and vocally an LGBTQ+ inclusive group.”

Another group with an event on the Festival Fortnight calendar who have worked with Leap Sports previously is the Cairngorm Pride Paddlers.

The Cairngorms Pride Paddlers will be back out on the water for a come and try and picnic event on Sunday, June 30.
The Cairngorms Pride Paddlers will be back out on the water for a come and try and picnic event on Sunday, June 30.

They are one of the truly successful examples of what an inclusive space in the sporting realm can do for people, as co-founder Julie Partridge has seen.

“The event which gave the idea behind a dedicated LGBTQI+ paddling group was born from a come and try session ran by Moray SUP (stand-up paddling) Club a few years ago,” she added

“It’s a great event and a brilliant way to get new folk out giving new sports a go. The Pride Paddlers aren't just a sports group, we are a bunch of friends and a community within the rural Highlands.

“Whilst our core was born through paddling we now socialize on many other levels and the original group that came along are now core members in making the Pride Paddlers as welcoming and fun as it was in its early days.

“Some of them are even training to becoming SUP instructors so they can run on-the-water sessions which is amazing – actually going from zero to hero and making lifelong friends along the way.”

See the full list of events around the Highlands for Festival Fortnight here


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