History has been made within the GAA as it is set to register its first ever LGBTQ+ club, Na Gaeil Aeracha (The Rainbow Gaels), based in Dublin. It all began when couple Karl Shannon and Luke Nolan tweeted out their idea to the world. The tweet instantly attracted attention from the GAA community with over 1.4k likes and 480 retweets received.

The founding committee is now looking for the club to be ready to play for the next season, with a bank of players who are eager to join, and over 150 sign-ups to the club’s mailing list. The foundation of the club is that it is open to everyone, not just people who fall into the LGBTQ+ community.

The College Tribune caught up with UCD student and a member of the founding committee, Caoimhe Baxter, alongside the GAA Diversity & Inclusion Officer, Geraldine McTavish, to discuss the work that the GAA is doing to be a more inclusive and diverse community.

Baxter, who is a MA student in Drama and Performance Studies, noted that, “there is a lot of different spaces in sports that are inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community, such as the Dublin Devils in soccer and the Emerald Warriors in Rugby. The GAA just never really had that.”

Na Gaeil Aeracha (The Rainbow Gaels) logo
Na Gaeil Aeracha (The Rainbow Gaels) logo

The GAA’s manifesto is “Where We All Belong” and the organisation established a ‘GAA for All’ committee several years ago. McTavish stated that in the GAA “inclusion means the LGBTQ+ community, different nationalities, different ethnicities, different minority groups, different shapes, different sizes.” McTavish gave the example of Ballyhaunis GAA club in Mayo having 75 different nationalities.

A lot of effort is made by the GAA to be universal, welcoming and open to everyone. This year the GAA held their first ever National Inclusive Fitness day on the 23rd of September. “We had pride matches, training for special schools, cycling events and different tournaments. Over 130 clubs took part and even internationally such as Stockholm, the Middle East and Montreal.”

Dublin Pride Parade 2019
29 June 2019; A group including Paul Flynn, Chief executive of the Gaelic Players Association, former Cork GAA star Valerie Mulcahy, former RTÉ gaelic games commentator Michéal O Muircheartaigh and intercounty referee David Gough singer-songwriter and author Brian Kennedy, Martin McAleese and comedian Katherine Lynch in attendance, at Croke Park, Dublin, before setting off to join the Dublin Pride Parade 2019 Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Diversity and Inclusion is not something that has appeared overnight or within the last year in the GAA. There has been a Diversity and Inclusion officer in the GAA for over 10 years. “The programmes that were put in place 10 years ago, we are maybe only seeing the result of those now,” McTavish said. “Unless you’re in the GAA you don’t know it’s going on, all this work is going on behind the scenes.”

The GAA has been approached by other sporting organizations asking for their policies and the structures they have in place, but of course there is always more to be done. “Ask yourself is the club welcoming?” McTavish said. “Do you have something on your website in different languages? Even if it’s just hello and welcome to our club.”

Being comfortable and welcomed in your club is crucial to player retention. “You have a choice to either stay in your sport or leave your sport” said McTavish. “I met two individuals who left the GAA and I said you can’t change your organisation if you leave it. The only way to change it is to stay and be a part of the solution. I actually managed to persuade those two individuals to come back to the GAA.”

Caoimhe Baxter said the Rainbow Gaels will try to be as gender inclusive as possible. They are considering not separating training based on gender, but rather doing it skills based as a lot of people in traditional GAA teams might feel out of place. Currently, mixed teams are not allowed in competitive games, only socially. “There’s not really a place at the minute for non-binary and trans people within the GAA so that’s one thing that we are really interested in fighting for.”

If you are interested in Na Gaeil Aeracha, you can join their mailing list at dublinlgbtqgaa@gmail.com or follow them on twitter and instagram.

Laoise Murray – Sports Writer