Third in our series exploring what cricket means to us, we hear from Kal about how the organisation Proud 2 Play, working in conjunction with Cricket Victoria to create Proud Cricket, helped him feel comfortable to finally give cricket a go. This Sunday 8 April, there’s a special Proud Cricket day at Junction Oval in St Kilda – if you’re in Melbourne, why not get along and see what it’s all about? For more: cricketvictoria.com.au/proudcricketday
Midsumma Festival is an annual celebration of LGBTI+ communities and culture held in Melbourne each summer, and the biggest event of the three weeks is arguably the annual Pride March.
The Pride March enables community groups, businesses and their cohorts to show their support for the community in a convivial, open and – perhaps most importantly – safe atmosphere.
This year’s Pride March was held on a baking hot Melbourne day, the thermometer tipping 38 degrees and testing the resilience of all those waiting patiently to walk down the hot asphalt of Fitzroy Street in St Kilda.
One marcher though, twenty-year-old Kal, was not to be deterred.
Kal marched under the banner of Proud Cricket, a programme established by Cricket Victoria and Proud 2 Play, which is an organisation established to enable safe and inclusive sports participation for the LGBTI+ community.
The Proud Cricket banner may have looked subdued next to some of the more glamorous displays, but it is no less important – particularly to Kal and those who love the game.
A late-comer to cricket, Kal only started playing in the last couple of years through the programs provided by Proud 2 Play, and has embraced the sport with enthusiasm and a sense of belonging and acceptance.
Although he comes from a strong cricketing family – his father, grandfather and brothers all played – Kal wasn’t given the opportunity to play, as he was not identified as male by his family.
Despite an early interest and passion for the game, the binary perception of his family and the broader cricketing community turned Kal off the game, with his interest only being sparked again through Proud 2 Play.
Interestingly, the first sport that Kal really loved wasn’t cricket, it was soccer: “I really love soccer. It’s been something I’ve been interested in since I was a little kid, but I never felt comfortable with the idea of playing with any of the local teams. Looking for a team that is inclusive, and that can help me develop skills to be able to play well, is actually something I’m currently looking into.”
The issue of acceptance and security is a constant one when it comes to sports participation for the LGBTI+ community, and something that sports administrators have taken a long time to respond to.
“Unfortunately, sport just hasn’t been something that I’ve felt comfortable with for the majority of my life. Being transgender and also queer, it never really felt like sport was something I’d be accepted in. It isn’t until now that I’ve medically transitioned and feel happier within myself, that I feel more comfortable with playing sport.”
The ability to make sport a safe and fun place seems to be lost on a lot of sporting providers and administrators, particularly when children become young adults and the expectation of performance starts to eclipse the needs of the participant.
“The last time I did any sport regularly and not just for fun with my friends was when I was 13. I did gymnastics, up until I was 13, when they told me that if I wanted to continue I would have to wear a leotard.”
The leotard was something that didn’t align with Kal’s sense of self and therefore the rules that the sport put in place left him out of it.
The ability to enjoy sport for fun and be accepted for who you are dissipated for Kal once he became a teen, and continued through his schooling years. It was there that sports were divided along binary gender lines, which were filled with stereotypes and created a sense of exclusion, and even resentment, toward sports generally.
Despite all this, a covert interest in the game lay in Kal’s mind and Proud 2 Play enabled him to take the first steps towards taking part, in an environment where he felt safe and accepted .
Founded by James Lolicato (2017 Victorian and Australian Community Leader of the Year) and Ryan Storr, Proud 2 Play has been a leader in providing safe sporting programs participation for the LGBTI+ community, bringing with it all the physical, mental and social benefits associated.
James admits that initial interest in cricket from the LGBTI+ community was limited at first, but the support from Cricket Victoria and the creation of Proud Cricket has enabled more sessions to encourage participation, skills training and friendly games.
Kal came across Proud 2 Play through friends, and from there the opportunity to participate and the subsequent passion grew.
“I wanted to be able to play sport, but in an environment where I knew I would be accepted,” said Kal. “A friend told me about Proud 2 Play and the sports programs that they ran. It just happened to be, at the time, that they were running a cricket program. At the time, cricket definitely wasn’t a sport I was looking into playing (soccer and AFL were), but I decided to give it a go. I had the greatest time and continued to go back every week of the program and just developed an interest in playing cricket. “
With the creation of these new programs, enthusiasts like Kal are looking to grow the game in the LGBTI+ community, even if it involves a little horse trading; “My friends will agree to play cricket in the park with me for an hour or two if I agree to watch a movie with them,” he told me.
His enthusiasm is paying off, as more of his friends are getting interested in the game and many of them followed last year’s ICC Women’s World Cup closely, supporting a team who until relatively recently also did not have access to programs, support or acceptance with the game.
And what is it about cricket that appeals to Kal? What is its inherent appeal? Unlike the machismo or passion of other games, it’s the calm: “I like that cricket is actually a pretty calm sport. In a lot of other team sports, you have people committing fouls and some games can get pretty heated. However, in cricket this doesn’t really happen which I actually find to be quite enjoyable.”
Interestingly, his own approach to the game is quite the opposite, with his cavalier side coming through: “I enjoy batting, as there is just something that I find thrilling about being able to smash a cricket ball as far as you can.”
While cricket has made great efforts to include the LGBTI+ community on the pitch, and to meet it on baking hot summer days like the Midsumma Pride March, it is pioneers like Kal who are walking out in front and opening up the game they enjoy for others in their community to discover.