“It’s about doing the right thing for Sussex as a whole.”

Sussex Cricket territory manager Matt Parsons reflects on a four-year effort to better engage with the LGBTQ+ community, as part of cricket’s commitment to becoming the most inclusive sport in England and Wales.

Back in 2020, we started devising our Urban Plan. It was launched in June 2021 and growing our engagement with the LGBTQ+ community has been a central part of our efforts.

Within our plan, we highlighted the need to open up our LGBTQ+ work, look at what challenges we had to overcome, and make considered judgments on what we needed to do to get to where we wanted to be.

The LGBTQ+ population is a very visible part of the Brighton and Hove community, although isn’t quite highlighted as much in Crawley and the areas surrounding Gatwick. But in my role, I’m responsible for all recreational cricket within the area, so I knew we had to do things right.

To begin with, our initial activity was about building links and trust with the area’s LGBTQ+ population. In those early days, the focus was on developing relationships rather than worrying about cricket activity.

Brighton Council had an LGBTQ+ steering group and initially we engaged with them to find out where to go and who to contact to get those initial conversations up and running. We deliberately took a very soft-touch approach, but the more we listened, the more found out how many of the local groups and organisations knew each other.

We spent so much time just sitting and meeting people. Sometimes we’d make notes, other times it was literally just listening to what people were talking about. The biggest thing I realised was that they wanted to trust who they were talking to. In order to build trust, you have to be able to demonstrate that you’re not just doing something for your own agenda.

After lots of coffees and meetings, word eventually started to spread and the local LGBTQ+ community was hearing more and more about us. As a community, they were intrigued. It felt like our months and months of building trust were starting to pay off.

That’s so important to me because we’ve had four years of discussions, networking, and building relationships so we can make a genuine difference, rather than just saying nice things, ticking boxes, but ultimately not delivering anything tangible. There’s a lot of focus on making sure that what we deliver is actually relevant, even if that might not directly mean that we’re going to get more Sussex cricketers. It's about being welcoming and showing all communities that cricket is a place to connect.

In December 2023, we launched our first Coffee, Cake and Cricket networking morning at County Ground. They run on the first Monday of every month and today we’ve got more than 35 members of the local LGBTQ+ community attending those events. Now we want to grow that and replicate them across the entire county.

We’ve had an approach of making it not about cricket, but maybe using cricket as a vehicle to raise discussion. That’s now got us to a stage where, for the rest of 2024, we’re working on setting up an LGBTQ+ team for the 2025 season.

Between now and then, we’re running taster sessions to get people involved. We’re having Sussex Cricket shirts redesigned for the Pride Weekend in August. And we’ll be permanently displaying the Progress Pride flag at the front of the County Ground.

We’re also launching a survey at clubs around the make-up of their LGBTQ+ membership. And we want to get a discussion going within our club network so we can show genuinely that when our clubs say they’re inclusive, they do actually welcome anyone.

In May, myself and my colleague Charlotte attended the LGBTQ+ Inclusion in Cricket Conference at Trent Bridge. Spending time with others, learning what was going on around the country, and talking openly gave us so much reassurance that we’re on the right track and filled us with ideas on the train ride home.

We genuinely want to use the platform we have to support the local LGBTQ+ community. We want to show Sussex is welcoming and inclusive to everyone.

Sussex Cricket’s annual Pride Game will align with Brighton Pride this year, on August 4 against Leicestershire Foxes.

The ECB and the wider game is also marking Rainbow Laces from June 29-July 7, with the LGBTQ+ in Cricket Employee Network marching at Pride in London on behalf of the whole game on June 29. To download a LGBTQ+ Inclusion Toolkit for Clubs and Leagues, click here.