Pride Month originated with the “Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade,” first held 50 years ago this weekend. The march marked the first anniversary of the Stonewall Inn Uprising, sparked by an early morning police raid on June 28, 1969. That 6 day protest against harassment and police brutality has since bloomed into a month long global celebration of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, or Questioning identities.

The Village Lions started just a few blocks from Stonewall. From the beginning we have been an Open Club. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, we’re all rugby players. 

To continue the celebration, we are spotlighting Rico Garcia. Rico hails from Plantation, FL and he grew up playing rugby at Northeast High School. Openly gay from the outset, Rico went on to play for SUNY Potsdam in 2012 before moving to New York City in 2012 and joining the Lions. He now works as an Art Director and lives in Brooklyn.

“Pride to me is happiness. I know I know, hear me out. It’s the happiness of being yourself. Happiness of feeling the warmth and love of those around. Happiness to hold your partner’s hand, be affectionate, caring, worry free. I used to think my happiness was going to come from being normal. That I would be Proud if I was “Straight Passing”. I’ve grown from that, evolved. I take pride in being myself, I found my happiness. I am proud to be a Rugby Player, Artist, Dancer, Friend, Brother, Son, Boyfriend, Human, and Gay.”

Rico Garcia

The Essentials
Name: Rico Garcia
Main Position: 8 Man – Loose Forward
Years with Lions: 8 Years on and off
Years playing rugby: 16 Years
Alma Maters: SUNY Potsdam, Northeast Nomads (HS, Oakland Park, FL)

We sat with Rico for a chat on his birthday (Happy Birthday Rico!) to talk about his experience in rugby: 

How do you think being a LGBTQ+ person has shaped your experience as a rugby player? Have your experiences been positive or negative?

Being openly gay and playing rugby has been a mostly positive experience. Most people react with how physical the sport is and don’t even think about that I’m gay. Every team I’ve played on since High School has been open and accepting, which is honestly amazing. Being queer in rugby just shows how diverse rugby is and how people from all walks of life can become family just by playing 80 minutes together. I’ve made some of my best friends playing rugby.

Tell us more about your high school playing days.

Being South Florida and my high school was a magnet school so lots of different people showed up to play. It was a club in the high school but they wouldn’t allow us to be a school team/hurricanes, so we were the nomads. We had two main coaches who played for the Ft Lauderdale men’s club at the time and they would always bring in other people to help train us. I played with Fijians, Argentineans, Colombians, English, Spanish, Kiwis, Australians, Welsh. They were a good group of guys most of us still keep in touch. 

Do you believe that rugby is becoming more or less diverse? What are some positive outcomes you can think of by making rugby more diverse and inclusive?

I do think rugby is becoming more diverse. That said we have quite a long way to go still. Rugby in the U.S. is still only known as a very “dangerous” sport, I believe rugby can actually teach people a lot about respect and sportsmanship. We lay out all our aggression for 80 minutes on the field then win or lose you line up and shake the other teams hand. Youth Rugby Programs are the future of rugby especially in the states, if it were considered more than a club sport then maybe the growth of the sport for all walks of people could benefit.

Signing Autographs While on Tour in Argentina.

The Village Lions prides itself on being a diverse and inclusive club. Has this always been your experience with rugby? If not, how have things changed over the years?

I think my High Schools team, the Northeast Nomads along with the Lions have been some of the most diverse and inclusive teams I’ve played on. I’ve met all types of people playing rugby and it’s been extremely welcoming and a fresh breath of air. No one cares who you are or what you do in your personal life the second you step onto the pitch, the only thing going through your mind is getting that ball into the try zone.

I’ve been the only openly gay person on the men’s team for every team I’ve played on. I didn’t even know there were gay teams or leagues out there until my second or third year playing with the Lions. It’s great that there are those teams out there! A place where being your truest self and not have any worries. I mean there are still ignorant people out, maybe they just haven’t been exposed to the LGBTQI+ community in any way, but don’t think for a second we can’t play just as hard or harder.

What does Pride mean to you?

Pride to me is happiness. I know I know, hear me out. It’s the happiness of being yourself. Happiness of feeling the warmth and love of those around. Happiness to hold your partner’s hand, be affectionate, caring, worry free. I used to think my happiness was going to come from being normal. That I would be Proud if I was “Straight Passing”. I’ve grown from that, evolved. I take pride in being myself, I found my happiness. I am proud to be a Rugby Player, Artist, Dancer, Friend, Brother, Son, Boyfriend, Human, and Gay.

As you may be aware a couple of our hashtags that started at Pride are #LoveIsLions #LionsIsLove, how has finding love through rugby affected you and your views of love in sports?

I actually found my partner through rugby! It’s a funny story but it ended up being one of the best things that could have happened to me! He’s a League Player and I play Union but we won’t get into that. 

I love rugby and it is something that becomes a lifelong bond. Whether it helps you find a partner or a friend those relationships tend to last forever. There is a mutual love and respect for people who play rugby anywhere you go. 

I just happened to be lucky enough to make some of my best friends and my partner through a sport I love.