During lockdown, documentaries have gripped the nation. From Tiger King to binging Louis Theroux series, we’ve been hooked. Amazon Prime has recently released a brand-new documentary following the world’s first gay rugby team: the Kings Cross Steelers – and we’re proud to have our very own in-house “Steeler”, Liam McCullion.
Tell us about the Kings Cross Steelers:
The Kings Cross Steelers were founded to provide the opportunity for members of the LGBTQ+ community and allies to play and enjoy ever-improving standards of rugby.
As the world’s first LGBTQ+ & Inclusive rugby club, their mission is to assert in front of the whole rugby community their value as competitive sportspeople through our progress and results.
Founded in 1995, predominantly for gay and bisexual men, the Steelers honour those beginnings and what it meant to that part of our community. They strive to do more by supporting, through our membership and campaigns, Rugby For All. No matter the gender, non-binary status, sexual identity, ethnic or socio-economic background, all can be a Steeler. The club aims to be a role model for the LGBTQ+ community and a successful example of friendly cohabitation between people of all backgrounds.
How did you feel watching the documentary?
As something to watch amid lockdown, it pulled on the heartstrings. Not just because it showcased people hugging whilst in the socially distanced pandemic, but also because it encapsulated stories so relatable to me as a cis-gender gay man. I’ve watched the documentary a couple of times and each time felt a lot of pride in the club and their cause, whilst also reflecting on what the club and rugby have done to help me. It’s also quite surreal at how “global” the documentary has become so I’m immeasurably proud that I have some small part in that legacy.
What does rugby mean to you?
Growing up in Yorkshire, rugby (league) was always around and, was to me, seen as a very “hyper-masculine” sport. In school, we played it and I supported my local team, Hull KR, but never felt I could get into the sport, for fear of being bullied because of how I identified or that I would not be the right shape.
It is only really since joining the Steelers that I’ve come to understand the importance and diversity of the sport. It challenged my own prejudices that rugby was a “man’s” sport and that you had to be a certain “build”. But the amazing thing about the sport is that regardless of your size, shape, gender or sex it’s got a role for everyone and has the capabilities to bring everyone together. I know I can step on that field and tackle and beat people to the ground but then come off and be as effeminate as I want. It’s come on leaps and bounds, but it’s all about respect and teamwork at the heart of it. Which I think is what should be mirrored in the LGBTQ+ community, respecting others and that we are all a team at the end of the day.
How has rugby impacted your life off the pitch?
When I first moved to London I had no friends, which are quite hard to make when you’re new to any city, never mind the capital. Steelers allowed me to make some lifelong friends and feel part of a community; I now live with two other players! But away from rugby, it’s made me a lot more confident as a person and being part of a team, it’s helped me realise my own worth as an individual.
Especially in lockdown, for a lot of us, we were on our own and only had our own thoughts to counteract any negative mental health issues, but I was lucky that I had the Steelers as essentially a support group of likeminded people who could help me when things were tough and I helped them as well.
I’m the biggest advocate of team sports now just for the social interaction, which I think a lot of us are very much craving in a post-pandemic world!
What’s your favourite rugby memory/story?
When I was younger, I went to go watch Hull KR vs Warrington Wolves in the semi-final of the challenge cup with my family. It was a close and tense game but, in the end, Hull KR won and I have never seen my mum and step-dad that happy in my life. There were tears, hugs and chanting but in all celebration, it was for me a really special moment as it made me feel less ostracised and part of my family and community. I understand for a lot of young LGBTQ+ people, heart-warming occasions are in short supply, but for that reason is why it’s one of my favourite memories; all through the power of rugby.
What does Pride mean to you?
For me, Pride is all about recognising the diversities in all of us. I think with everyone and even within the LGBTQ+ community, there can be often an “us” vs “them” mantra (think Mean Girls the movie). I think Pride should be all about us inviting EVERYONE to the conversation and holding up the mirror to many people at how things aren’t binary anymore and every single person, straight, gay, trans… all have diversity.
Sometimes we see a lot of hate at Pride and for me, that’s our fault for not inviting those to the conversation to wake them up that they have their own diversity. A white heterosexual cis straight man has his own diversity, he may have a disability, he may be lower class, he may be a single father supporting his kids…All these aspects add to someone’s diversity in my opinion and Pride should be about making people realise this. For me, it’s exciting to include everyone on a path to a melting pot of diversity. Pride for me is a celebration of everyone, to be proud of who they are. This video sums up what I’m trying to say!
How does working for an inclusive team affect your work?
Research shows that people want to work for employers with good employment practices. They also want to feel valued at work. To be competitive, organisations need everyone who works for them to make their best contribution. For me, it’s important that my company creates open and inclusive workplace cultures in which everyone feels valued, respects colleagues, and my and everyone else’s contributions are recognised.
Leaving my previous job in a quite conservative industry, it’s been refreshing that Focus has a great culture to work in. It makes me feel like my ideas aren’t glossed over because I’m young or inexperienced and I can talk to my colleagues without feeling that I will be excluded from things. I genuinely feel more productive in this environment which is great for me and Focus.