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Queer Sporting Alliance boosting gender diversity in sport

by Elijah
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A QSA participant, with his back to the camera, holds a rainbow-colored basketball.

In March this year, the Queer Sporting Alliance (QSA) won the Outstanding Contribution to Sport Award at the Victorian Pride Awards.

The QSA is the largest LGBTIQA+ sporting club in Australia and New Zealand, and the award recognizes its ongoing efforts to deliver gay-friendly sporting environments and events.

They included Australia’s first and largest queer basketball tournament, which featured over 180 players from across Australia and took place in Wurundjeri Country, in the northern suburbs of Naarm/Melbourne, in January 2024.

The goal of the QSA is participation and creating a space for those who have previously been excluded from sport.

The QSA focuses on creating safe spaces for those who have previously been excluded from sport. (Supplied: Kirsty Marshall)

Some participants had not played basketball for many years prior to the tournament, and for some it was their first time stepping onto the court.

The tournament and all QSA programs welcome both queer people and straight allies.

“It was like Mardi Gras, but for gays who love sports,” said participant Jethro Athlas.

“It was my dream come true.”

QSA president Stella Lesic said the tournament was important because it ensured players of any gender identity could participate.

Queer Sporting Alliance President Stella Lesic defends basketball

Queer Sporting Alliance president Stella Lesic said the tournament did not require players to show themselves.(Supplied: Monique Clarke)

“The tournament did not require any player to reveal themselves (unless they wanted to) or for a referee to assume their gender in order to apply mixed/gender basketball rules,” they said.

“Especially for players who are taking steps towards gender affirmation or who have experienced transphobia in sport, our tournament and the QLeague are changing the rules of the game.

“For the first time in basketball history, players could just play.”

Associate Professor Ada Cheung is a physician, scientist and endocrinologist specializing in the treatment of transgender people and sees the benefits that QSA brings to the community.

“What QSA does is beneficial, not just for queer people, but for everyone,” he says.

“(At) the grassroots level, there needs to be a lot more focus on participation (for gender diverse people).”

Short-haired woman in a red shirt and black jacket, sitting in an office.

Ada Cheung says more attention should be paid to the participation of gender diverse people in sport. (ABC News)

Bring queer people back to basketball

Athlas started playing basketball at age 11 and played until coming out as non-binary at age 23.

“I felt like I couldn’t present myself as myself with the binary rules of a regular competition and I didn’t have many other queer friends at the time to form a team that felt safe,” they said.

Fellow tournament participant Leigh Seelie had a similar story of quitting the sport after coming out as trans.

“I played on and off throughout my adulthood and stopped about four years ago when I started transitioning,” he said.

“I didn’t feel like my team captain would accept me because they had made several transphobic posts on Facebook.

“I didn’t find a new team because I was worried about how people would react when I played and I didn’t want to be the center of attention.

“When the (QSA) tournament came up, I was really excited to play… It felt like a great opportunity to get back into playing a sport that I loved.”

The referee awards a four-point shot in the QSA basketball tournament

Many QSA tournament participants have similar stories of abandoning mainstream sport. (Supplied: Kirsty Marshall)

While Seelie initially felt “overwhelmed” to play in the tournament after some time away from the game, she said her team made her feel very welcome.

“I felt enormous joy to be able to be me and play a game I loved,” he said.

With more than 1,000 registered members across Australia, the QSA has also seen an influx of cisgender heterosexual men and women joining the club.

“QLeague is a joy,” said QSA regular and ally Greg Craske.

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