South Africa’s first-ever gay rugby team is out to prove that it’s more than just a bunch of “fairies” and “fudge packers.”
In a fun and provocative new recruitment campaign just launched today, members of Johannesburg‘s openly LGBT-inclusive Jozi Cats rugby club appear with un-PC terms like “Fairy?” and “Queen?” emblazoned inquisitively above their heads. The ads are designed both to draw new members to the team and to tear down gay stereotypes within the broader — and still very macho — South African rugby culture.
“Though it is hard hitting and disruptive, it’s really to kind of normalize things, to let people know that you can be a queen and be a rugby player,” says Chris Verrijdt of Havas PR South Africa, who created the campaign. “You can be a pillow biter or fudge packer or any of those derogatory terms, and still be a man. We’re not questioning masculinity here. If anything we’re saying, ‘Well are you or aren’t you? It doesn’t matter. We just need you to play for the team.'”
Nearly a decade ago South Africa, became just the fifth country in the world to recognize marriage equality. But widespread acceptance of LGBT people is still developing, especially outside of the country’s large cities.
“It’s such a relevant time for this conversation to be had,” says player (and “Fudge packer?” model) Anthony Seger. “We have one of the world’s most liberal constitutions, but culturally, we’re still quite a conservative bunch of people.”
Jozi Cats chairman Teveshan Kuni says the team, which caters to all levels of rugby experience, provides South African gays with one of the few available outlets for non-scene socializing. “If you’re sick of the gay dating apps and you’re not somebody who goes to gay bars or gay clubs, there’s simply no alternative space to meet anybody.”
Despite the fact that rugby is one of South Africa’s most popular sports, the Jozi Cats are still the country’s — and indeed the entire African continent’s — first and only openly gay team. The country has never had rugby representation at the Gay Games or Outgames, and it has yet to participate in the Bingham Cup, the international gay rugby tournament named for 9/11 hero Mark Bingham.
But Kuni says the team is now on the fast track to changing that, and has begun fundraising for all three events. “We’re quite excited,” he says. “If you had asked anybody on our team even three months ago if they thought they’d have shot at representing South Africa in a gay rugby tournament, they’d have looked at you and said, ‘What are you on?'”
Kuni says he even has his eyes on the possibility of South Africa hosting the Bingham Cup as soon as 2020. But first their own league will need more out more players, which makes the ad campaign so vital.
“It’s going to be disruptive, it’s going to be a conversation starter,” says Seger. “But ultimately we hope it’s going to create awareness so that people know there’s a space where guys who are gay can play rugby and feel completely safe.”
Watch the behind the scenes video from the campaign’s photo shoot: