Current Bushrangers president, Stella Lesic, founded the club in 2015 after moving to Melbourne and realising there were limited options for the LGBTI+ community to socialize outside of a drinking – heavy environment. Starting as a single team, the club has now grown to include, as of January 2020; 9 teams in Melbourne, 1 in Brisbane, Auckland and Canberra. The Bushrangers Basketball provides a safe space for the LGBTI+, stating on their website; ‘We pride ourselves on creating safe spaces for LGBTIQA+ basketballers and their allies to play community sport’.
The Proud 2 Play team sat down with Stella, following her nomination for the John Marriott Sports Person of the Year at this year’s GLOBE Community Awards to chat about the clubs; challenges, successes and ‘the big picture’. We also went along to a Sunday morning training session to see the squad in action.
When looking at the struggles of expanding the club. Stella’s desire for the club to not profit off of the players, making sure to pay attention to the intersectionality of inclusion with financial accessibility was her main focus. The weekly Come out and Play training sessions on a Sunday certainly have that in mind. There is no charge for participants to get involved, with plenty of basketballs there to use, bibs for drills, and no requirement to be currently playing in a team to attend.
One of the most refreshing aspects of the Bushrangers ethos is, moving away from the typical sports focus of winnings games and having set drills. The main focus for their training sessions is for players to get to know each other and feel comfortable playing, saying; ‘You might go an entire season without winning a game. Winning is not what we are about. The win, for some of the players is just turning up to the court’. Those wins are certainly celebrated within the club as well, calling a win on the scoreboard “A happy accident” to the relationships and confidence built through the game. One of the warmup activities at the Sunday training was simply passing the ball around, stating your name and preferred pronouns, which encapsulates the club’s values well.
A focus for The Bushrangers, come 2020, is a stronger focus on the trans and gender diverse community, having already submitted a mixed team to begin in January. When prompted on some of the struggles a club may face from sporting bodies and stadiums, Stella had this to say; “…whenever we enter a new competition, we send out our ‘Gender and Sexual Diversity Inclusion Guidelines’ which we based largely on the Proud 2 Play doc. We send that off to the association and we send them Basketball Australia’s member protection policy, and we say, ‘Hey these are the guidelines that we have got, please distribute them amongst referees so they know what we are about’.”
So far, they have had relatively neutral to positive feedback from those organisations, with facilities like Carlton Baths, being exceptionally welcoming. The club is looking at building the relationship further with Carlton Baths, to make the location a ‘home ground’ of sorts, and to partner up for some events. Another focus for Stella in the coming months is to bring up the issue of gender neutral bathrooms at the stadiums teams play at, going on to say; “ I will be sorting that out and why it is so important for players and for the Bushrangers , and other players in other teams, that safe space is as simple as being able to go to the bathroom… Just week to week, if we aren’t asking those questions, we aren’t sure who would be.”
When asked what some of the club’s biggest achievement is so far, gender diversity was certainly front of mind for Stella. The Come out and Play training sessions have brought an influx of transgender, gender diverse and non- binary players. Being able to engage individuals in a team sport who have previously felt disengaged or not welcome in similar environments was something Stella felt very strongly about it. Stella was nearly brought to tears when discussing this topic and what it meant to the community. Carlton Baths has been a notable asset towards further inclusion at the club, with the two working closely together to make the rules for mixed basketball less binary, for not only their club, but for all teams.
For individuals wanting to get involved with The Bushrangers that are hesitant, there are many ways to ‘dip your toe in the water’ that may not be basketball itself. This is where the accessibility of the club is shown again. Outside of having to pick up a ball, the club hosts monthly bushwalks, as well as gatherings monthly at one of their sponsors in Collingwood, The Fox. Stella even encourages those who are hesitant to get involved to try and come to a training and just watch. “A lot of hesitation for rocking up I the fear of the unknown”, this common fear of the unknown has driven the club to focus on the onboarding experience, making sure people are made to feel welcome and comfortable to do what works for them.
Overall, The Bushrangers are making waves in the LGBTI+ sporting community, and their rapid growth and attention to individual needs has done wonders in supporting their rapid growth. Have a watch of a fun intro video Bushrangers put together and check out how to get involved with the club, below!