Rugby Football Team Increasing Diversity

A national champion in rugby at Cal in 1991, Mark Bingham was playing on the San Francisco Fog, a team in the International Gay Rugby league, when he had the idea to move to New York City and start a similar team. Before he could, tragedy struck. Bingham was one of 44 people who died when United flight 93 crashed in Shanksvillle, Pa., on Sept. 11, 2001. In his honor, a few of his friends started Gotham Knights RFC in December of that year. Though it took nearly three years for the team to win a USA Rugby league game, Gotham has become a haven for gay and straight ruggers alike, an intense brotherhood that has been life-changing for some.

Toby Butterfield (first team president): After 9/11, there was a feeling that, who knows what the future holds? If you want to do something, you better do it. It was in October or November when we first met. We had our first match the next spring.

Ted Perkins (2003–present): Before rugby, I was playing water polo. That team would only play against other gay teams. Gotham plays in a regular league, and the gay thing is secondary. This was a really big deal. Especially in rugby, which is competitive, it really flies in the face of what a lot of negative imagery of gay men was. We’re going to play with everybody else, we’re not about to get sidelined or marginalized.

Alex Ghinger (2015–present): I came out at 14. When you come out a really young age, you don’t feel sports are an option. You’re told, That’s not what someone who is gay does. I missed out on a huge opportunity because I was scared of the way I would be treated.

Michael Kengmana (2014–present): Coming to it as one of the straight players, you realize there are much deeper things than just saying, “I support LGBTQ causes.” So much of sports culture is directly tied to what has hurt so many of my teammates growing up. In locker rooms, in high school, you say the word f-----, you don’t even think about it. You call each other “gay.” It’s been really cool seeing that sports has a way of doing good things, especially for people who are marginalized.

Ghinger: A lot of people join our team because they didn’t see themselves in gay bars, in people in the community. They looked for something that would give them a community they could associate with. It’s not just a team, it’s a family.

Rich Suarez (2016–present): I see them as a group who has my back. I recently came out to my parents and my friends from high school. My team is a big factor in motivating me. It gave me the idea to give it a shot. I’ve only known them for a year.

Nick Finger (2014–present): Finding a community in which there are lots of other people comfortable being themselves, being flamboyant, being an athlete, made me feel more comfortable I could do that too. I never had that feeling before. It’s helped me feel a lot more comfortable with myself and confident that I could be an athlete and whatever I wanted outside of that.

Perkins: We’re different on one hand, but on the other, we’re fighting and making a real point that we’re not different. And we still have style and panache. We
have a reputation that we throw the best parties.
And we do!

TIME may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website. Offers may be subject to change without notice.