Queer Sporting Alliance boosting gender diversity in sport

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

The QSA is Australia and New Zealand’s largest LGBTIQA+ sporting club, and the award recognises its ongoing efforts to provide queer-friendly sporting environments and events.

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

The QSA’s focus is on 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 in many years before the tournament, and for some it was their first time stepping onto a court.

The tournament, and all QSA programs, welcome queer folk as well as straight allies.

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

“It was my dream come true.”

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

Queer Sporting Alliance President Stella Lesic defends the basketball

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

“The tournament didn’t require any player to out themselves [unless they wanted to] or have a referee assume their gender for the purpose of applying mixed/gendered basketball rules,” they said.

“Particularly for players taking steps to gender affirmation or who have experienced transphobia in sport, our tournament and the QLeague are game-changing.

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

Associate professor Ada Cheung is a clinician, scientist and endocrinologist specialising in the treatment of transgender individuals and sees the benefits the QSA brings to the community.

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

“[At] the grassroots level, there needs to be much more of a focus on participation [for gender diverse people].”

Woman with short hair wearing a red shirt and black jacket, sitting in an office.

Ada Cheung says there should be more focus on the participation of gender diverse people in sport. (ABC News)

Bringing queer people back to basketball

Athlas started basketball at 11 years old and played until they came out as non-binary at 23.

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

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

“I played on and off during my adulthood and stopped around four years ago as I started to transition,” she said.

“I did not feel that the captain of my team would accept me as they had made a number of transphobic posts on Facebook.

“I did not find a new team as I was concerned about how people would react to me playing and I did not want to be spotlighted.

“When the [QSA] tournament came up, I was very excited to play … It felt like a great opportunity to play a sport I loved again.”

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

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

While at first Seelie felt “overwhelmed” about playing in the tournament after time away from the game, she said her team made her feel very welcome.

“I felt a huge amount of joy just being able to be me and play a game I loved,” she said.

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

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

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‘It takes a village’: The price we pay to keep our kids in sport

For Sarah McGovern, keeping her kids in sport is crucial, but also overwhelming.

“This year’s soccer registration was two weeks earlier than usual. We were going to pay the rates, but I put them off and thought, they can just be late,” she says.

For both boys, MiniRoos registration fees are $300 — but they also need to fork out for boots (kids’ feet grow fast), shin pads and uniform kits each season.

It’s a long drive to buy new gear, so when she’s not teaching at the nearby preschool, Sarah often spends her time hunting for second-hand items closer to home.

“I keep an eye out on buy, swap and sell Facebook pages. The club doesn’t offer subsidies, and they don’t have second-hand soccer boots,” Sarah says.

“It might not seem like a lot to other people, but we’ve got to plan for these things.”

Jasper (left) and his big brother Charlie have developed friendships, fancy footwork and lifelong skills.()

Living on a lower income in a regional NSW town, there’s the added fuel costs to get to training and game day.

Summer swimming lessons also impact the budget, but it means the kids are safe around water, where their dad, Aaron works long hours as a skipper.

For Jasper, 6, and Charlie, 8, who are both autistic and have ADHD, playing soccer means everything to them.

Sarah says it’s worth every cent to see them develop lifelong skills and self-confidence.  

And with Jasper being offered a spot on the representative team next year, they’re still figuring out whether they can afford to travel to training twice a week and pay for the higher soccer fees.

For now, the family manages to scrape by.

But not all families can prioritise sport

Recent data from the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) AusPlay survey reveals that the cost of sport in Australia — as well as time commitments — are two of the most common reasons why many kids across the country aren’t participating.

It shows 43 per cent of children aged 14 and under participated in out-of-school organised sports activities at least once a week. 

And children were less likely to participate if they were from a low-income family, lived in a remote or regional area, or spoke a language other than English at home.

It also shows families on average spend $600 per child last year on sport, compared to $520 in 2019.

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