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Sara and Stacey Francis-Bayman

Sara and Stacey Francis-Bayman have long been two of the most high-profile members of the LGBTQ+ community in netball but it has not always been that simple.

On court, two glittering careers have yielded numerous Netball Super League titles, moves to Australia and New Zealand and 169 Vitality Roses caps combined, but off court their journeys have been contrasting.

The pair married in 2020 having met during their playing days and while Stacey’s sexuality was never something that interfered with a career that saw her represent Team Bath and West Coast Fever, wife Sara struggled with a fear that being open with coaches and teammates about her sexuality would impact her playing days.

“Sara and I have had very different experiences,” explained Stacey. “My sexuality was never something that I struggled with or that I felt was required to be a topic of conversation.

“I don’t particularly feel comfortable with the notion of ‘coming out’ because I think it’s ridiculous and straight people don’t do it.

“I was always very comfortable and confident in my own skin as a result of my family and the environment that I grew up in which gave me a great platform to carry that with me into future environments.”

Sara added: “Personally, I found it uncomfortable to be in the sport and to be out because I didn’t want that to be what I was known for.

“There weren’t a lot of LGBTQ players around, definitely not in the league but even in world netball. I wanted my netball to do more of the talking so I struggled with that.

“Players have always been very welcoming. You make the most incredible friends in netball, that’s one of the great things about it, but I was worried about coaches’ reactions and not wanting to give anyone any reasons not to pick me or treat me differently.

“It took Stacey for me to realise that a large part of my struggle was due to the fact that there wasn’t any visibility growing up.”

The idea of visibility is one that both reflect they had at first underestimated the importance of early on in their careers.

While both agree that netball has always been an inclusive sport, the number of openly LGBTQ+ players was almost zero in the mid-2000s.

It has meant both Stacey and Sara have become figureheads within the LGBTQ+ netball community and while it was not something they initially embraced, they have grown to understand the huge power this holds.

“I didn’t have gay role models,” reflected Sara. “I think as I became more open and was dragged into Stacey’s whirlwind of a life, I realised there is a bit of a responsibility to be visible in this space so that young netballers who go to training and feel awkward about themselves or whatever they might feel,  they recognise that we have all been there and netball is actually a really safe space and somewhere everyone is accepted, and you can be yourself without any fear.

“It has become more and more important in the past couple of years that we have a presence in this space and that younger netball players recognise how important it is to be authentic and not compartmentalise their life which is sort of what I did.”

 

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Stacey continued: “I realised, especially towards the end of my career when I had achieved a lot more than I thought I had and my profile and the profile of netball was growing, the importance of visibility.

“Privately, in my own spaces, I have always really owned who I am and my individuality, and the things that set me apart and make me different.

“But I realised that being openly vocal about all of the different parts of myself that I am really proud of and sharing them with people in quite an in-your-face way was actually incredibly powerful.

“Although my story with my sexuality is different, and the complete opposite to Sara’s story and her experience of her sexuality, it is still an important one to share.

“When I started to do that, I got so much positive feedback and so much more interaction from people who had similar experiences or felt they were more accepted by the sport because they saw somebody at the pinnacle of the game making similar lifestyle choices to them.”

Progress may have been notable but both agree that there is still plenty to do.

The Netball Super League is hosting its first-ever league-wide Pride Round across Rounds 14 and 15, with clubs encouraged to celebrate inclusivity, show support for the LGBTQ+ community, and demonstrate that netball is a sport for all.

And both called for even more active efforts to be made to further push the profile of netball as an unapologetically LGBTQ+ inclusive sport, where everyone has a place to belong.

“It is time that netball realises it can be a bit of a trailblazer in this space,” said Sara.

“There has been progress, part of it is deliberate and part of it is a generational thing where people are more accepting and embrace difference and realise that diversity is needed on a team, but there is a bit of work still to be done.

“Part of it is players understanding their profile and how it can be used. Football have done a really good job in recent years of promoting their players and their brand and I think netball can do a better job in that space.

“There are more players out there who are openly LGBTQ+ but they don’t have a profile that is that high or aren’t the people who are chosen to speak on topics.”

For Stacey, events like Pride Round are a key tenet of efforts to further the cause of inclusivity that simply didn’t exist during her Super League days and bode as positive signs for further progress.

“Netball has always had a really great reputation in terms of inclusion and diversity but that reputation only works for a certain amount of time,” she added.

“You have to lean into having policies, programmes and rounds and be more overt in making the game visibly and unequivocally inclusive for everybody.

“It has had such a good reputation for such a long time, but netball can continue to lead in that space and having things like Pride Round, they are not tokenistic for me.

“Visibility and role models are the most important thing and I don’t think I ever realised growing up that the athletes I gravitated towards were the ones where I felt like I had something in common with, whether that be they looked the same as me, they came from the place that I came from, they liked the same things I liked.

“It moulded me into the person I am today and the more diverse role models there are on bigger and better platforms as netball continues to grow, the better.”

For the upcoming Pride Round the Netball Super League have partnered with Stonewall UK to create a world where everyone is free to be their authentic selves. If you would like to support their work for LGBTQ+ equality you can donate through the Netball Super League fundraiser here.  Across the weekend, players, coaches and umpires will be wearing Rainbow Laces to show their support for the LGBTQ+ community, you can buy your own set of Rainbow Laces here.

Follow the Netball Super League on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok. Keep up with all the latest news by signing up to the NSL newsletter here.

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