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.


Most Shared

On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

Culture
via Cadbury

Cadbury has removed the words from its Dairy Milk chocolate bars in the U.K. to draw attention to a serious issue, senior loneliness.

On September 4, Cadbury released the limited-edition candy bars in supermarkets and for every one sold, the candy giant will donate 30p (37 cents) to Age UK, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the elderly.

Cadbury was prompted to help the organization after it was revealed that 225,000 elderly people in the UK often go an entire week without speaking to another person.

Keep Reading Show less
Well Being

Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

WE Teachers
True
Walgreens
via KGW-TV / YouTube

One of the major differences between women and men is that women are often judged based on their looks rather than their character or abilities.

"Men as well as women tend to establish the worth of individual women primarily by the way their body looks, research shows. We do not do this when we evaluate men," Naomi Ellemers Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today.

Dr. Ellers believes that this tendency to judge a woman solely on her looks causes them to be seen as an object rather than a person.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture