Frazer Robertson: “You don’t reach the top and then stop. You always have to work at it, LGBT+ inclusion in sport is never going to go away.”

Even among those who would class themselves as very sporty people, floorball is not a discipline that many will be familiar with.

The simplest way of describing it is as ice hockey without the ice, and slightly less contact. Teams of six play over three 20-minute periods, usually indoors, with a ball instead of a puck.

Looking at it from an inclusion perspective, there are very few sports that compare. It is relatively inexpensive, with the biggest outlay usually being the hall to play in, players can and do range from teenagers to people in their 60s, and there are no gender restrictions – everyone can play in a single team.

That is why floorball, when Frazer Robertson was looking at which sport to start up an inclusive club for in Perth, became the favoured option.

A keen badminton player, Robertson had been one of the founding members of the Glasgow Front Runners before moving to Scotland’s former capital city to be with his partner. On arrival, he was disappointed to find there were no LGBT+ clubs in the area, so he quickly set about starting one up himself: the Perth Parrots.

“Perth is a very sporty city, it’s got quite a pedigree – there are very few teams that don’t exist in Perth,” Robertson explained.

“But there weren’t any LGBT+ teams, which was quite surprising. There isn’t a hugely visible LGBT+ community in Perth to be fair. For example, I engaged the LGBT+ Youth Scotland Glow Group in Perth, and then I went to the students’ LGBT+ group at Perth College and it was many of the same faces, and that’s quite common – there are maybe 10 groups that meet in total, and it’s many of the same people that go to them all.

“I think it really needed someone to step up and go ‘you know what, I’ll start an LGBT+ sports group’. The more I found out about floorball the more inclusive it seemed. It began to align itself very well for me. There’s not a huge amount of money required to start up in terms of kit, unlike many sports it allows men, women or those who identify as neither, to play competitively, so to me that was an absolute no-brainer.

“We came around purely because there was a bit of a vacuum in Perth, and the time was right for someone to step up and start one.”

The initial reaction to floorball, and the Parrots, was very positive. The first session was ran as part of LEAP Sports’ Festival Fortnight in 2019 which had a strong turnout, and it was an easy sell when Robertson approached the local council and Live Active Leisure to formally start the team that September.

Floorball is very much an emerging sport in the UK.

He was met with positivity from within the existing floorball community too. Bob Paterson at Fife Floorball Club was a particularly big help as Robertson learned more about the sport, and the two have kept in close contact with Paterson and his wife regularly training with the Parrots when not coaching in Fife.

The full benefits of the club are probably yet to be seen, as just six months into it’s existence the pandemic forced training to be put on hold – with Robertson saying Covid-19 has had a “devastating” effect on the Parrots.

It will not quite be a case of starting right back at square one, but even if it was he would still continue to work to establish the club because of the potential effect it could have for the LGBT+ community and the area as a whole.

Perthshire Pride are a really young committee, which is good – they’re really keen and really enthusiastic, they were the first group that we reached out to,” Robertson recalled.

“We reached out to Perthshire Pride, Perth and Kinross Council, Live Active Leisure and UK Floorball Federation. Nobody has ever closed the door on us, they have always been extremely supportive.

“There needs to be a safe space for LGBT+ people to come together. You could write a volume of papers on the benefits of that.

“If I was to move to Spain, I would be likely to migrate to the ex-pat community. I would tune into the ex-pat radio and I’d want to meet other, like-minded people that celebrate established British festivals like Guy Fawkes Night or Burns Night for example.

“We instinctively migrate to our own community, and I equally think there are a lot of strengths for LGBT+ people who are marginalised and isolated to have a safe space where we can come and meet other LGBT+ people, and say you don’t have to play to a stereotype, but instead just be your authentic self.

“I think that’s why I struggled initially, I felt like there wasn’t a place for me in the LGBT+ community, which is nonsense but you have to see what you want to be.

The Perth Parrots has helped give Robertson (front right), and many others, a community in sport.

“I think clubs provide strong, visible role models for others to see that we are breaking the mould and stepping out from under the pressure of negative stereotypes; you can identify as LGBT+ and enjoy sport. I still think Perth has quite a way to go, it is an inclusive city but it has an older demographic and is not a big metropolis like Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, or Brighton. Cultural attitudes still have some way to go, and a team like the Perth Parrots are going to help to do that.

“The first Pride event in Perth was held in 2018. That shows you how far behind the curve the city is, Edinburgh’s first Pride I think was in the early-90s, and Glasgow would have been the same, so we’re a good 20 or 30 years behind the curve.

“Perth Parrots have a part to play. We’re not going to solve everything, but we’ll hopefully change some attitudes along the way.

As is often the case, those sorts of LGBT+ role models in sport were nigh on impossible to find for Robertson growing up, something that seems to have at least partially fuelled his determination to establish the Perth Parrots.

One club is unlikely to generate wholesale change overnight, and he is realistic about that, but he still feels a sense of duty to represent sporty LGBT+ people, and he will make sure that is passed on to other members of the club when they begin to play matches.

“When I was younger, I had this interpretation of what it meant to be a gay man,” he explained.

“The stereotype had been honed over many years, whether that was watching Carry On films, or Are You Being Served. Often gay men in particular were vilified, they were the butt of the joke.

“I didn’t see myself in that community, there wasn’t a Frazer that I could go ‘oh, hang on a minute, that’s ok’, so it legitimises people like me to have clubs like ours.

“There will be lots of heterosexual people who think they have never met a gay person and that they don’t exist. The thing about the LGBT+ community is that we’re invisible.

“That can be a blessing. Let’s say you go to college, you can choose to be invisible for however long that course runs, you might think you’re never going to see those people again so you don’t need to tell them anything about your home life, but it can also be a curse, because people, including me, can feel isolated.

“None of my friends were gay growing up. I have a really colourful group of friends now, but the majority of the people I hung around with at school, and still hang about with now, are heterosexual. As kids I wasn’t able to speak about any of the things that I was experiencing.

Perth Parrots helps to provide a safe space where people can be their authentic selves.

“Clubs like Perth Parrots can’t fix that in isolation, but we can break down barriers. People will play against us or alongside us, and they might leave thinking ‘they were really good, I wasn’t expecting a gay team to be good’.

“I am determined that we will be a really honest and fair team, we will leave the pitch with our heads held high. We’ve got an added responsibility, we are ambassadors for the LGBT+ community, and we could potentially score an own goal if we go in foul-mouthed and shouting at the ref, it reflects poorly on us as a team and the wider LGBT+ community.”

Another group that the Parrots have turned to for support, and one that shares the goal of breaking down barriers for LGBT+ people in sport, is LEAP Sports – which Robertson was once again a founder member of.

Looking back on that period, he believes a group like LEAP was necessary to fill a gap for advocacy and support, which it has certainly strived to do ever since.

“I was the events co-ordinator on the Glasgow Front Runners committee at the time,” he said.

“LEAP didn’t exist, it wasn’t called LEAP, it was just a concept. Hugh Torrance mentioned to me over a pint that there might be a bit of scope for us to do something.

“At the time, existing LGBT+ third sector organisations weren’t working in the area of sport. I don’t mean that in a bad way, but their focus was understandably elsewhere. There wasn’t a third sector organisation that was an umbrella for LGBT+ issues in sport.

“Often what would happen was that, a prominent athlete would come out, and the press would be clamouring for some LGBT+ spoke person to give them a quote, but there really wasn’t an existing organisation that would be able to give that sporting context or credibility.

“Quite often they would contact Glasgow Front Runners and ask if we were willing to comment on an issue with homophobia for example. We’re a running club, focused on running. Yes we’re LGBT+, yes we think it’s terrible, but go and ask someone with the capacity and experience to comment.

LEAP Sports became a big part of Robertson’s life.

“There was a real opportunity, and the planets aligned where people who were passionate about LGBT+ inclusion in sport, were quite sporty and enjoyed it, and had something to offer, came together as a small group from clubs predominantly across the central belt.

“At that point there weren’t a huge variety of LGBT+ clubs, and we just began to chip away at what would become LEAP Sports. We had four strategic outcomes that we were trying to achieve, and from that LEAP was born.

“Obviously the strategy has changed since, but leadership, equality, active and participation were key words that we drew out from the four objectives, and that’s where LEAP Sports came from.

“Events is what really gets my engine running, the planning, the logistics, what it’s going to look like, how we’re going to make it look slick and professionalise it. I took on that role, and we started a small events sub-group where Festival Fortnight was born in 2013, and it’s still going strong. Things like the national bowling competition were hugely successful, and we’re seeing more and more teams coming to that annually.

“I’ve helped coordinate and volunteered at three Pride House venues. We did the Glasgow Commonwealth Games (2014), the Homeless Football World Cup (2016) and one for the European Championships (2018). Birmingham will be hosting it’s first for the Commonwealth Games in 2022 and are already well advanced in terms of planning and comms.

“It has been a blur. I was the chair, and I stood down last year and handed on the baton. It was time, it was someone else’s shot. You see organisations where a chair stays in the seat for too long, and it becomes stale. I think it needed some fresh and new ideas, but I’m still heavily involved as a volunteer.”

Being such an integral part of two separate inclusive clubs, both in individual sport and team sport, as well as a founding member of LEAP Sports and chairman of Glenearn Badminton Club in Perth gives Robertson a unique overview into where the fight for diversity in sport currently stands in Scotland.

“We’re not there yet,” Robertson insisted.

“I don’t want to come across negatively, but there is a long way to go. There are still a lot of stereotypes, and there are a lot of sports that appear exclusively heterosexual. I’m sure some sports will immediately spring to mind, but there seems to be a lot of willingness now for a sea change from governing bodies across Scotland which is fantastic.

“Scottish Badminton is a classic example, I was slightly surprised but delighted when they came all out for LGBT Youth Scotland’s Purple Friday initiative. They were encouraging clubs to do a keepy-up challenge, and our club went big on it, but not because I pushed it, because there was a willingness from the club to support the initiative.

“You’ve got governing bodies now seeing a value in diversity, and understanding that if they want their sport grow, they need to make sure it’s seen as inclusive and welcoming.

“Diversity in and of itself is a challenge. You don’t reach the top and then stop. You always have to work at it, LGBT+ inclusion in sport is never going to go away.

“It’s a very fickle thing, one small thing from a high profile professional athlete, or inappropriate conduct from a referee or official, can send shockwaves through the sport. Before you know it people stop playing that particular sport, or else disengage from sport entirely.

“Someone said to me years ago, and I always use this analogy, that diversity in sport is like driving a car up a hill. If you lesson your foot on the accelerator you begin to slow, but it still goes, and if you take your foot off entirely the car rolls back.

“That’s the challenge we have with diversity in sport. To say that we’ve ticked that box, we’ve completed that, is a misnomer. We need to embed diversity in everything we’re doing going forward too.”

As pandemic restrictions begin to ease, planning for the future can resume with a little more certainty. While it may be difficult to achieve a complete turnaround in attitudes as quickly as some may like, the Perth Parrots will certainly have a role to play in making progress.

That, above even success in tournaments despite his competitive nature, is Robertson’s wish for the future.

“If people come to tournaments and have a preconceived idea about us, hopefully we will change it for the better,” he added.

“We’re only on the very cusp of playing. We’re not a particularly slick team as yet, having only been playing for six months before we had to stop. For me, the lifting of a trophy, is not our ultimate goal. Instead we win every time we go out and play and represent the club, it’s not about what we achieve in terms of wins, but the impact we make among our members and the wider community.

“We might meet on the rink for an hour or two on a Tuesday, but we win when members foster new friendships organically out with club sessions and offer a wider sense of belonging.

“The mental health aspect of sport is hugely underplayed. As cliched as it might sound, every time we come together as a club, we win. That’s the benefit of it, and if we lift a trophy, awesome, but that’s not what the Perth Parrots were ever set up for.

“We’re not here to win the league, we’re here to bring a group of like-minded people together socially, and benefit from the physical and mental health aspects of sport. Anything else is a bonus I would say.”

One thought on “Frazer Robertson: “You don’t reach the top and then stop. You always have to work at it, LGBT+ inclusion in sport is never going to go away.”

  1. Pingback: Seen & Heard: “I find it really powerful when people see my story and my experience as something that has helped them.” – Pride of the Terraces

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s