These gay rugby players are dismantling stereotypes with their powerful new campaign.

Rugby is no joke. Especially in South Africa.

The team sport is fast and aggressive. And to the untrained eye, it's primal and chaotic. And while the game has gained some recent traction in the U.S., around the world it's quite common. In South Africa, competitive rugby is more than a game: It's an industry and a tradition.



South Africa is home to the Springboks (the national rugby team) and several provincial rugby unions, each fielding a professional rugby team and amateur clubs. The country also fields six professional teams for the Super Rugby competition where clubs compete with teams from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Argentina.

It's a big business, and home or away, national pride is always on the line.

But, sadly, something else is all too common in South Africa: Hate crimes, specifically against the LGBT community.

Despite having a progressive constitution (even lauded by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg) and legal protections against discrimination on the books, progress has been slow.

Stigma, negative stereotypes, and homophobic violence persist, making it difficult for LGBT people to live freely or pursue personal and professional passions without fear of harassment or attack.

Protestors opposing a proposal to remove the term "sexual orientation" from section 9(3) of the South African Constitution, which prohibits unfair discrimination. The proposal did not pass. Photo by Rodger Bosch/AFP/Getty Images.

However, one group is celebrating South Africa's rugby tradition while dismantling tired stereotypes about gay men.

Meet the Jozi Cats.

What a handsome bunch of guys at Saturday's practice. Love you guys! 🏉🏉💜 #rugby #gay rugby #jozicats #handsome #sporty #boys
A photo posted by Jozi Cats (@jozicatsrugby) on


They're South Africa's first competitive gay and inclusive rugby team.

Based in Johannesburg, the Jozi Cats hope to join the ranks of other gay rugby cubs around the world and compete in the World Outgames (an Olympic-style event for LGBT athletes) and the Bingham Cup, an annual tournament for gay rugby clubs. The Jozi Cats would be the first team from the entire continent of Africa to participate in the latter.

But to stay competitive and offer opportunities for gay men to pursue the sport, they had to recruit some new players.

Jozi Cats player and head of Havas Public Relations in South Africa Chris Verrijdt realized the diversity and inclusivity in their ranks. Many of the players didn't fit the "conventional" mold or expectation people might have for a gay sports league.

Larry Viljoen, tighthead prop for the Jozi Cats. Image via Havas WW South Africa/YouTube.

"...they just are gay dudes who happen to like rugby," he told Upworthy.

Verrijdt and the team wanted a way to challenge long-held notions of masculinity and homosexuality, while recruiting some new talent. And since their publicity budget was nonexistent, raising a few eyebrows along the way couldn't hurt.

With an idea in the works, Verrijdt set up a shoot with the team and a photographer.

In a behind-the-scenes video for the campaign, the players described their care and responsibility to get this right — not just for the team but for other LGBT people in South Africa.

"We're running a campaign to make awareness of people who are homosexual within our society, to have courage to actually step out," said the team's all-rounder Chris Herbst, who actually came out to his friends and family by participating in the campaign.

Members of the team pose for photographer Werner Prinsloo. Image via Havas WW South Africa/YouTube.

The finished product — real players reclaiming derogatory gay slurs — is shocking but drives home a very important message.

No matter how the world sees you...

Photo by Werner Prinsloo for Havas WW South Africa/Jozi Cats, used with permission.

Or how you see yourself.....

Photo by Werner Prinsloo for Havas WW South Africa/Jozi Cats, used with permission.

Safe and welcoming spaces do exist.

This is Chris Herbst. Photo by Werner Prinsloo for Havas WW South Africa/Jozi Cats, used with permission.

And there are plenty of people who will respect and support you just the way you are.

Photo by Werner Prinsloo for Havas WW South Africa/Jozi Cats, used with permission.

Or as center Teveshan Kuni said:

So far, the response to the project has been overwhelmingly positive.

"We have just hit over 1,000 Likes on our page and the video of the shoot has been viewed in over 126 countries, " Verrijdt said.

But it's not just an international hit, the campaign is actually an effective recruiting tool. New players are inquiring about the team and coming out to practices and play touch rugby matches on Thursday nights.

The Jozi Cats at work. GIF via Havas WW South Africa/YouTube.

As happy as Verrijdt and the Jozi Cats are about their brush with viral fame, this was always about something bigger.

The Jozi Cats have always been about been about making connections and sharing competitive rugby with other gay men and allies. This project, however unconventional, is helping them do just that.

"Who knows the extent of what historical moments we are creating here for gay rugby and social inclusion," Verrijdt said.

"Perhaps Jozi Cats will produce South Africa's first openly gay sportsman? Which for a country with one of the most liberal constitutions in the world, is amazing that we haven’t been able to do so. Yet."

Photo by Werner Prinsloo for Havas WW South Africa/Jozi Cats, used with permission.


True

This year more than ever, many families are anticipating an empty dinner table. Shawn Kaplan lived this experience when his father passed away, leaving his mother who struggled to provide food for her two children. Shawn is now a dedicated volunteer and donor with Second Harvest Food Bank in Middle Tennessee and encourages everyone to give back this holiday season with Amazon.

Watch the full story:

Over one million people in Tennessee are at risk of hunger every day. And since the outbreak of COVID-19, Second Harvest has seen a 50% increase in need for their services. That's why Amazon is Delivering Smiles and giving back this holiday season by fulfilling hundreds of AmazonSmile Charity Lists, donating essential pantry and food items to help organizations like Second Harvest to feed those hit the hardest this year.

Visit AmazonSmile Charity Lists to donate directly to a local food bank or charity in your community, or simply shop smile.amazon.com and Amazon will donate a portion of the purchase price of eligible products to your selected charity.

via Brittany Kinley / Facebook

Brittany Kinley, a mother from Mansfield, Texas, had a hilarious mom fail her and she's chalking it up to being just another crazy thing that happened in 2020.

When Kinley filled out the order form for her son Mason's kindergarten class pictures, there was an option to have his name engraved into the photos. But Kinley wasn't interested in having her son's name on the photos so she wrote "I DON'T WANT THIS" on the box.

Well, it appears as though she should have left the box blank because the computer or incredibly literal human that designed the photographs wrote "I DON'T WANT THIS" where mason's name should be.

Keep Reading Show less
True

A lot of people here are like family to me," Michelle says about Bread for the City — a community nonprofit located in Washington DC that provides local residents with food, clothing, health care, social advocacy, and legal services. And since the pandemic began, the need to support organizations like Bread for the City is greater than ever, which is why Amazon is Delivering Smiles to local charities across the country this holiday season.

Watch the full story:

Amazon is giving back by fulfilling hundreds of AmazonSmile Charity Lists, and donating essential pantry and food items to help organizations like Bread for the City provide to those disproportionately impacted this year.

Visit AmazonSmile Charity Lists to donate directly to a local charity in your community, or simply shop smile.amazon.com and Amazon will donate a portion of the purchase price of eligible products to your charity of choice.
via Twins Trust / Twitter

Twins born with separate fathers are rare in the human population. Although there isn't much known about heteropaternal superfecundation — as it's known in the scientific community — a study published in The Guardian, says about one in every 400 sets of fraternal twins has different fathers.

Simon and Graeme Berney-Edwards, a gay married couple, from London, England both wanted to be the biological father of their first child.

"We couldn't decide on who would be the biological father," Simon told The Daily Mail. "Graeme said it should be me, but I said that he had just as much right as I did."

Keep Reading Show less
via UDOT / Facebook

In December 2018, The Utah Department of Transportation opened the largest wildlife overpass in the state, spanning 320 by 50 feet across all six lanes of Interstate 80.

Its construction was intended to make traveling through the I-80 corridor in Summit County safer for motorists and the local wildlife.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that there were over 100 animal incidents on the interstate since 2016, giving the stretch of highway the unfortunate nickname of "Slaughter Row."

Keep Reading Show less