India Willoughby makes history as first trans patron of rugby club: ‘One big family’

India Willoughby is patron of Keighley Cougars Rugby League club

Broadcaster India Willoughby has made history by being appointed patron of the Keighley Cougars rugby league club, becoming the first trans person to hold that title at a professional sports team.

Willoughby, a former co-host of Loose Women, has become a household name in recent months, in the wake of a high-profile online altercation with Harry Potter author JK Rowling.

League One Cougars is co-owned by husbands Ryan O’Neill and Kaue Garcia, who have fought to ensure they are at the helm of “one of the most progressive clubs in the sporting world”. 

‘We are all one big family’

“It’s such an honour to become the first trans patron of a professional club”, Willoughby told PinkNews.

“There’s no other rugby league club in the world like the Keighley Cougars. When you think that this is happening in a traditional northern town, which isn’t the first place you would think of as being super LGBTQ+ friendly, it’s incredible.” 

Willoughby claims the town is “really getting behind” the co-owners, and she believes even the “little pockets of resistance,” can be won over. 

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Keighly Courgars' co-owners Kaue and Ryan.
Keighley Cougars’ co-owners Kaue Garcia (L) and Ryan O’Neill. (Keighley Cougars)

“O’Neill and Garcia are brave to make history with her as their patron while the whole word seems to be turning against trans people”, she added.

“We are all one big family and we’ve got to stick up for [one another].” 

Garcia told PinkNews that Willoughby’s appointment is a “a powerful statement of inclusivity and representation”.

“By providing visibility to a trans individual in a prominent role, the club is actively challenging stigma, and fostering understanding,” he said. 

The club co-owner explained that With the trans community still faces significant barriers, Willoughby’s appointment is designed to be another step towards increasing awareness and acceptance of trans individuals.

‘We are all human beings, deserving of respect’

“Visibility plays a crucial role in changing hearts and minds, as it humanises experiences and promotes empathy. By showcasing diverse representation, the club is not only promoting inclusivity but also encouraging education and dialogue. 

“Ultimately, this move underscores the universal truth that we are all human beings, deserving of respect and the opportunity to live authentic lives.” 

The Cougars have also unveiled a new kit, with all profits from sales – it will soon be available from the club website – being donated to the trans charity, Mermaids.