Metro Weekly

Nashville hosting Bingham Cup, the gay rugby world championship

This year will mark the first time the annual tournament has been held in the American South

Competitors at 2014 Bingham Cup in Sydney, Australia (Photo: Bingham Cup/Erik Denison)
Competitors at 2014 Bingham Cup in Sydney, Australia (Photo: Bingham Cup/Erik Denison)

A throng of LGBT and allied rugby players has descended upon the city of Nashville for Memorial Day Weekend. More than 1,300 rugby players and supporters from 42 club teams and 11 different countries are in the midst of competing for the ultimate prize: first place in the Bingham Cup, an annual event that serves as the world championship for gay rugby teams.

Named in honor of Mark Bingham, a gay rugby player who helped found two gay rugby teams in San Francisco and New York who was killed on United Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001, the annual tournament is awarded to host teams by International Gay Rugby (IGR), the governing body of the sport. IGR hopes that the cup, and other tournaments, will help increase visibility and foster an environment where LGBT players and fans are welcome. IGR has previously worked with World Rugby, USA Rugby and other national unions to combat homophobia in the sport, among both players and fans.

“This is an exciting time for our IGR athletes, coaches, referees and supporters,” Jeff Wilson, IGR’s chairman, said in a statement. “We are delighted to bring the Bingham Cup Tournament back to the USA for the first time in six years and look forward to the largest and best gay and inclusive rugby tournament ever presented. Both Nashville and the campus environment of Vanderbilt University provide our participants with an open and accepting environment, with many sights and attractions off the pitch.”

This year’s selection of the Nashville Grizzlies rugby club as the host team marks the first time the tournament has been held in the Mid-South, providing an economic boom to the city. According to organizers, over 6,000 hotel and dorm stays have been booked by out-of-town guests, and official events off the field will bring in money to local bars and restaurants throughout Nashville. D.C. has a significant presence at the event, with two gay rugby teams, the Scandals and the Renegades, who will compete for the championship this weekend. 

The choice of Nashville is particularly interesting given the defeat of an anti-transgender “bathroom bill” at the same time that Gov. Bill Haslam decided to sign into law a bill allowing therapists and counselors to refuse to treat LGBT clients. Nonetheless, city officials have made it clear that Nashville, at least, is more welcoming and accepting of the LGBT community than other parts of the state. Mayor Megan Barry praised IGR and its promotion of tolerance and respect for diversity, saying those values represent “exactly the type of atmosphere we have worked so hard to create — and will continue to defend — here in Nashville, with a thriving LGBTQ+ community that strengthens the fabric of our city.”

The actual games are being held at Ted Rhodes Park from May 27 through May 29, with closing ceremonies on Sunday evening. Proceeds from the event will go to benefit the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network (TSPN), which will also be hosting anti-bullying and suicide prevention classes throughout the weekend.

“This year’s tournament marks the return of the Bingham Cup to the United States and its first ever trip to the South,” Jon Glassmeyer, the chairman of the Bingham Cup Organizing Committee, said in a statement. “We hope you will enjoy some southern food, plenty of live music, and revel in the rugby brotherhood with over 1,200 players from around the globe.”

Editor’s Note: Contributing writer Fallon Forbush also contributed to this report.

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