A feature-length documentary about the world’s first gay rugby club – Steelers: World’s First Gay Rugby Club – had its world premiere at the New Zealand International Film Festival this past weekend.
In 1995, a group of six men met in a Kings Cross London pub and began the world’s first gay rugby club. Today, there is a global community of thousands making up more than 60 gay clubs around the world.
As the club prepares to compete against 60 other gay rugby clubs in the 2018 Bingham Cup in Amsterdam – the World Cup of gay rugby – the film focuses on the stories of three members of the club.
Nic Evans, the Steelers’ gay female coach and former international player for Wales, who is struggling to overcome misogyny in the vastly male-dominated sport.
Birmingham rugby fanatic Simon Jones, who shares his battle with depression. Jones had recently come out to a childhood friend he’d developed feelings for, and the friend apparently didn’t take the news well.
Andrew McDowell, a monster on the field who also has another life as a drag queen. “I will be tough and brutal and kick your ass on the pitch,” says McDowell in the film’s trailer. “When I’m off the pitch I will be as flagrant and flamboyant as I want.”
The film is written, directed and narrated by Australian journalist Eammon Ashton-Atkinson who is a member of the club. He was scheduled to play in the 2018 tournament but suffered concussion weeks before the event. He decided to travel with his team anyway and shot the film over three weeks.
“I’m a reporter so I tell stories for a living, but I’ve never told one this personal,” says Ashton-Atkinson. “It’s the kind of story that I would have loved to have seen in my darker days. My wish is for this film to give hope to others who may need it, not just those struggling with their sexuality, but anyone doubting themselves.”
Ashton-Atkinson’s own story is included in the film as well going back to the bullying he experienced as a child including being outed at school when a classmate secretly recorded them being intimate and then shared the video at school.
“I hated sport growing up as a kid,” shares the veteran journalist. “But my Dad encouraged me to play rugby and without that, I never would have joined the Steelers, met my husband and found a place where I felt like I belonged.”
Like many gay men who have felt as though they didn’t ‘fit in,’ Ashton-Atkinson says, “When I joined the club and I was surrounded by so many people who were just like me, I finally felt happy in my own skin.”
And speaking of fitting in, the filmmaker was thrilled when New Zealand’s premier rugby team, the All Blacks, shared a link about the film’s world premiere this weekend.
It was especially meaningful considering the press anti-LGBTQ rugby player Israel Folau has received regarding his homophobic “Hell Awaits” remarks on social media over the past year.
The filmmakers share with Instinct that Steelers will have its U.S. debut at Southern Florida’s OUTshine Film Festival in August 2020.
Until then, the film will continue with online and in-person screenings via the New Zealand Film Festival through August 2 and hope to release the film worldwide in 2021.