Real-life quidditch is the queerest sport of all – and is ready to forget about you-know-who

A real game of quidditch - here are four players with sticks between their legs (like broomsticks), one is jumping while throwing a ball into a hoop

Real-life quidditch – the sport that sprung from JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books – has long championed LGBT+ inclusion. Now, its community is queerer than ever.

To this day, the list of team sports that are mixed gender, acknowledge trans and non-binary identities and actively encourage people to play as who they are is short – and quidditch is right at the top.

The full-contact sport, which players often describe as a mixture of rugby, dodgeball and European handball, doesn’t share a lot of ground with its Harry Potter origins anymore.

Players still use brooms as handicaps and use some of the original vocabulary, but much has been changed to make it an independent sport.

Still, the inclusivity of the sport has stayed the same across the 17 years of its existence. The rulebook clearly states that quidditch embraces players of all genders and sexualities, and trans athletes aren’t just included – they’re empowered to play as their full selves.

Four quidditch players in a heap on the ground

Quidditch has a huge queer following. (Quidditch UK)

A look at the demographic of quidditch players in the UK showcases the massive impact this has: 11.7 per cent of players identify as trans – compared to an estimated 1.0 to 1.3 per cent in the general population. The numbers regarding sexual and romantic preference are similarly impressive, with around 55 per cent of players identifying as something other than heterosexual – again compared to 1.5 to 2.5 per cent in the general population.

Because no one knows quidditch and the reasons for playing it better, PinkNews sat down with LGBT+ players from the teams in Edinburgh and Glasgow to talk about the sport, what it means to them and how they deal with the legacy of JK Rowling (spoiler: it’s tough).

All of them find it easy to pinpoint what drove them to quidditch: The traditional team sport system that failed them. 

“When I was 18 years old, I was made to play rugby with the 12-year-old boys so that I ‘wouldn’t get hurt’,” said Hannah who leads Edinburgh’s university team, the Holyrood Hippogriffs. 

The Holyrood Hippogriffs posing for a team picture in front of three hoops. There are 16 players - one holding a ball, others lying on the ground, two are sticking their tongues out

The Holyrood Hippogriffs quidditch team. (Jandels)

For her, quidditch is the exact opposite: “A sport where I get to tackle grown men and pin them to the ground. Honestly, that’s why I play quidditch.”

Hugo discovered the sport in 2019. 

“After secondary school I started transitioning, but going into men’s team sports is difficult,” Hugo said. “I did try playing men’s hockey in university, went to a few sessions and felt very uncomfortable and out of place. I then tried quidditch and it’s just way more relaxed and inclusive.”

There’s more than one reason PE and traditional sports don’t work for many queer people – whether it’s the rampant sexism, ableism, queerphobia and transphobia, or something else.

The first people I came out to were my quidditch friends.

“I’m autistic, so I had significant issues with PE. I was never comfortable,” said Rachel, who plays for the Glasgow Grim Reapers. Now in quidditch, she feels much more looked out for.

Several players we spoke to only discovered their LGBT+ identity after starting to play quidditch, and many cite the sport as a space where they felt safe to explore themselves.

“The first people I came out to were my quidditch friends,” said Sam, who plays for Edinburgh’s community team Kelpies QC.

“They were the ones that let me know this was a possibility. The first non-binary person I ever met was in quidditch and then one year later I was out.”

Four quidditch players running with yellow balls

A real-life game of quidditch. Luis, the author of this article, is to the left. (Jandels)

Rachel added: “So many people started playing quidditch and then realised they’re not cis or straight. By fostering this open queer space, you attract queer people. Almost unknowingly, you also attract people who don’t realise they’re closeted.”

Still, it’s the athletic side of quidditch that makes it a unique space. A wide variety of LGBT+ spaces exist, but almost none of them are a team sport. 

“Quidditch is both incredibly inclusive but also allows you to progress athletically,” said Jon, who started playing in Glasgow last year. 

“It’s a fun athletic space regardless of gender or sexual orientation,” added Hannah. The full-contact element of the sport is important especially for women, who are traditionally pushed into less combative sports.

“The welcoming feel of the team while also being able to release aggression physically made me stay in quidditch,” said Yanna who also plays for the Holyrood Hippogriffs.

Four quidditch players, one has thrown themself onto the ground catching a ball

Quidditch isn’t without its problems – it often prioritise male players. (Jandels)

With all this said, quidditch is not a perfect space. The player-base is overwhelmingly white and middle and upper class. Sexism is still prevalent, and women and non-binary players are often undervalued and underrepresented on pitch.

“Female players are passed to less and encouraged less to be playmakers,” said Yanna. Hannah added: “This isn’t a unique problem for quidditch, it’s a problem for sports in general. We’re trying to solve this, but we’ve not solved it yet. We don’t empower our women enough, even if we try to.”

I don’t like to think about JK Rowling.

There’s another big shadow cast over the quidditch community. For most quidditch players, a simple mention of JK Rowling makes their blood boil.

“I don’t like to think about JK Rowling. I disagree with the majority of her beliefs,” said Hugo. 

Josh, the volunteer director for Quidditch UK, added: “I know some of my trans and non-binary friends had doubts of coming back to the sport post-COVID, because they don’t want to associate at all with anything Harry Potter. 

“It’s getting difficult to recruit people from the LGBT+ community because of that association.” 

Sam, who considered quitting the sport because they felt so uncomfortable being associated with JK Rowling, eventually returned. “In my brain, quidditch is separate from Harry Potter,” they said.

Last year, two US quidditch leagues renamed themselves to distance them from Rowling’s “anti-trans views”. The British players we spoke to all supported a name change, both to legitimise the sport and to distance it from the author. 

“When I say that I play quidditch I have to justify that I don’t support her beliefs,” said Rachel. 

“We are not a reflection of her. Renaming the sport would be good, because it saves us from having to make that justification.

For many trans people, a name change can be a vital step towards their identity. Now, the time has come for quidditch to lose what many already consider its deadname – and cut ties with JK Rowling for good.