Celebrating the Pride of LGBTQ+ cricketing success

Senior figures from England’s three LGBTQ+ cricket clubs have urged more people to follow their lead as cricket continues its journey to become the most inclusive sport in the country.

To celebrate LGBTQ+ History Month, Sky Sports and Warwickshire County Cricket Club gathered Birmingham Unicorns founder Lachlan Smith and club-mate Hattie Wright, Graces chair Leo Skyner, and Leeds Kites chair Steve Gillies for a fascinating and wide-reaching discussion at Edgbaston.

“If you're thinking of starting a team up, do it,” said Gillies, whose club was formed in 2023.

“We'd love to play you! Persevere with it as best you can and try to get like-minded people involved as early as possible. It's a lot of work and very tiring, but it's one of the most rewarding feelings once things start moving and you see the impact it has and the amount of joy it can bring to queer people.”

For Smith and the Unicorns, who were founded in 2021, growth is already coming at pace.

“The idea for the club emerged through the pandemic as I recognised that many in the LGBTQ+ community had lost their space to socialise and connect with the community,” he said.

“I knew cricket was a great way to connect and was good for mental health. I started to explore if there was a demand for an LGBTQ team and, as they say, the rest is history – there certainly was a demand!”

Smith is now focussing on expanding the club’s offer for women, providing both competitive and social cricket opportunities to all its members, and entering league cricket in the next two or three years.

In London, where Graces has been at the forefront of LGBTQ+ inclusivity for almost 30 years, chair Leo Skyner looks back with pride at everything his club has achieved.

“We had our first fixture against Wendover in 1997,” he says, “and a couple of players from that game still turn out for us! The club was formed before the growth of the internet and social media, so the original advert was in the Pink Paper.”

Today, its 50 members support two teams playing a mix of competitive and friendly cricket.

“We play in the Chess Valley Sunday League,” says Skyner. “We’ve also got a raft of great friendly fixtures, some of whom we’ve played for years and are fabulous allies, and some we add each year.”

Graces recently played against MCC and have a fixture scheduled against a Houses of Parliament team for summer 2024. A pioneering partnership with LGBTQ+ refugee and asylum seeker charity Say It Loud Club also delivered strong growth in 2023.

Skyner and Smith have been so keen to get more LGBTQ+ players involved in cricket that they launched Out4Cricket, a small community interest company that works with counties and other stakeholders to grow LGBTQ+ participation in cricket.

“Just get involved,” said Smith, “because it’s fantastic game. Look for an inclusive club near you or reach out to Out4Cricket or any of the LGBTQ+ clubs and we’ll do all we can to help.”

Skyner added: “It really is a fabulous sport. It’s time well spent with people who will become great friends. Just come along and try. There's a place for everyone, be it playing, supporting or officiating.”

Warwickshire Chief Executive Stuart Cain, said: “We have an excellent partnership with Birmingham Unicorns. We’ve held coaching sessions for their players in the past and it was great to see them using our indoor school, practicing ahead of the new season.

“Unicorns’ Chair, Lachlan Smith, sits on our Members’ Committee and alongside our Inclusion Advisory Board helps advise the club on inclusivity initiatives and ways to get more people from the LGBTQ+ community into cricket, both spectating and participating.

“I was hugely proud that Warwickshire helped organize the country’s first ever LGBTQ+ cricket tournament last summer. It was a great occasion, with teams representing five First Class Counties, and lots of people came along to support the event.

“LGBTQ+ communities may have thought cricket isn’t for them because they don’t see it, they don’t see participation in the Network. That’s why the event was fabulous for the game, the visibility it brings and that will encourage others to get involved. We’ll be looking to deliver it bigger and better in 2024.”