BALTIMORE (WJZ) — When Bryan Wright moved to Baltimore three years ago, he had no friends, no family, but knew he needed some sort of community. It’s one of the biggest factors that drew him into joining the Baltimore Flamingos.

“We’re Maryland’s first gay rugby team,” said team captain, Val Pizzo. The Flamingos are part of the International Gay Rugby Organization, comprised of over one hundred teams worldwide, created to combat homophobia in rugby and sports.

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“Sports just in general haven’t always been the most queer welcoming of places in the world,” said Joshua Franklin, one the Flamingos players.

Franklin was drawn to the team for the same reason Wright was, “I felt safe, I felt happy here.”

The team includes players who identify as gay and trans, and no rugby experience is required.

One player, Rowe, said they never played rugby much less any contact sport before in their life. But Rowe described the team as so welcoming, after the first practice Rowe bought cleats and joined in.

“It’s a safe space to celebrate you for who you are, regardless of what that means,” Wright said of the team.

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Part of the reason the players said they enjoy the team so much is because this feeling of community and inclusion is so hard to find.

Pizzo is the only Flamingos player who played rugby throughout high school and college.

“I played on a girls team in high school, transitioned, played on a men’s team in college and it was fun, but I mean it was uncomfortable,” he said.

It’s what keeps them coming back to the Flamingos.

“Being here, you’re a rugby player, and that’s all it is,” said Rowe.

Every year, the team has the tradition of participating in Baltimore’s PRIDE Parade. But since the start of the pandemic, the parade has been canceled, prompting the team to look for other ways to celebrate. They plan on doing a few PRIDE events – all listed on their website and social media pages.

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“We’re celebrating PRIDE this June just like we’re celebrating every day of the year, getting together and creating a community space where we can all be ourselves,” Pizzo said. “We love PRIDE month, but we’re here all year!”

Annie Rose Ramos