Gay rugby player Jade Konkel-Roberts on how the sport helped her find herself

Jade Konkel-Roberts is a Harlequins women's rugby player. Here she is pictured in the centre playing with her teammates.

There’s a stereotype that sport isn’t a welcoming place for LGBTQ+ people – but that’s not the experience Jade Konkel-Roberts has had.

Jade is a professional rugby player with Harlequins women’s team. She grew up in a “pretty rugby-oriented” family in Scotland where both of her brothers and her parents played rugby.

“Every Saturday when I was a toddler upwards growing up, we’d be watching my dad play rugby and I just remember it being my favourite thing to do on a Saturday,” she says. “All the rugby guys made you feel like you were part of the family and you just got to run wild up and down the pitch, really.” 

On one occasion, Jade was a little too eager in her commitment to rugby when she jumped onto the pitch to help her dad with the tackle.

“He had to scoop me up mid tackle and then supposedly I turned to him and said, ‘Dad, why did you hurt me?’ Because he didn’t let me get in. He obviously tried to protect me from all these massive men running at me,” she laughs.

Jade Konkel-Roberts of Harlequins.
Jade Konkel-Roberts of Harlequins. (Robbie Stephenson/JMP)

At the age of nine, Jade did a year in a mini-league where she was mixed with the boys – but because there was no girls team, she eventually stopped playing rugby. At the age of 17, she rekindled her love for the sport when she got onto the Scotland women’s under-20 team.

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“I was like, oh right, cool, I guess rugby it is,” she laughs.

Shortly afterwards, she moved to Glasgow where she was able to explore her identity more fully for the first time. Joining a rugby club helped that process.

“When I was 18 and actually moved to Glasgow I was like, well this is probably going to be much easier to come out and be myself because on a rugby team and it’s just normal. Nobody would really bat an eyelid either way, really. For me that was a really easy environment to come out in.” 

Jade is keenly aware that things are not quite as welcoming across the board. While women’s rugby provided a comfortable space for her to embrace her sexuality, others are not so lucky. 

Jade Konkel-Roberts of Harlequins in action.
Jade Konkel-Roberts of Harlequins in action. (Juan Gasparini/JMP)

That appears to be particularly true of men’s rugby and football, where there are still only a small number of openly queer players.

“You’d just want the men’s side especially to create an open environment that, if you happen to be gay, then cool, you can be open and gay,” Jade says. 

“There’s still a way to go with normalising that in men’s sport, whereas with the women’s, you can kind of see it from the flip side. It’s quite a stereotypical – especially football and rugby – gay sport, so you want to make sure that everyone knows it’s open for all.

“You want to make sure that no matter what sporting environment you’re in it’s not favouring one side or the other. It just becomes a normal thing that you can be whoever you want to be.” 

Firefighting has made Jade Konkel-Roberts a better rugby player

When Jade isn’t on the rugby pitch, she spends her time either putting out fires – literally – or with her new wife. She recently got married – an event she describes as “the best day ever” – and she works as a firefighter in London. 

“It’s like having a whole other rugby team except you’re wearing PPE and breathing apparatus and going into burning buildings,” Jade laughs.

Jade Konkel-Roberts of Harlequins in action.
Jade Konkel-Roberts of Harlequins in action. (Juan Gasparini/JMP)

“I actually think I play better rugby because of it because it’s something else I can focus on … I think it’s going to make my life a lot smoother in the transition when I retire from rugby.”

Even so, retirement isn’t on the card for Jade just yet. In fact, she’s currently gearing up for the Harlequins Game Changer match on 13 May, which serves as a celebration of women’s rugby. She and her teammates will face off against Wasps Women in a match that’s all about showing how important women’s sport is. 

“Events like this helps show that [women’s rugby] is there – and hopefully then people will keep coming back week in, week out,” Jade says.

The Game Changer match takes place on Saturday 13 May at 3pm at The Stoop. Tickets are available here.