Wales and Bristol Bears’ Elinor Snowsill on life as a gay woman in rugby
Elinor Snowsill has a story that neatly encapsulates why it is important that LGBTQ+ sports stars continue to talk publicly about their experiences.
Last year, running early for a filming appointment at Welsh language broadcaster S4C, Snowsill ducked into a homeware shop to pass some time.
The Wales and Bristol Bears fly-half was on her way to record a video about her coming-out story. But as she attempted to pay for her shopping, she found herself at odds with the shopkeeper’s idea of what a lesbian should look like.
“Her card reader wasn’t working and she said, ‘do you mind waiting 10 minutes?’ I said: ‘No, I’ve got to go, I’m filming’,” Snowsill told World Rugby.
“She wanted to know what I was filming, and I got a bit awkward and said: ‘Oh, my coming out story’ and she said, ‘coming out of where?’
“I was like, ‘oh, just to talk about the fact that I’m gay’ and she said, ‘oh, well that’s OK because my son is gay and I’m completely OK with it’. But then she said, ‘But you’re very pretty’.
“Almost as if you’ve got to look a certain way to be gay. So, I found that really odd and I think it justified why I was doing the video. Because there are still those slight attitudes out there.”
Snowsill had hesitated when she was first asked by S4C to film the segment. Although she did not come out to her parents until she was 23, it was a painless experience and the 31-year-old has never hidden who she is.
“I wasn’t going to do it originally because I thought I didn’t need to,” Snowsill added.
“But then I remembered I still know of people who can’t come out because their family’s not accepting of it. Or who have been kicked out of their houses because of it.
“And I think because of those issues it’s still really important if we get the opportunity to talk about it that we talk about it, and normalise it.”
Snowsill says there was “not this one turning moment when I thought, ‘I fancy girls’”. By the end of her time at Loughborough University, though, she had realised she was attracted to women more than men.
The Wales international held off telling her parents due to a fear they would be disappointed. A break-up led her to open up, and Snowsill discovered she had nothing to worry about.
“I told my dad first, I think, and he was like, ‘I know’. And I was like, ‘well, why haven’t you told me that you know?’ And he said: ‘Well, we were waiting for you to tell us in your own time’,” she said.
“It was a real situation where if I had just been honest and upfront years ago it would have been much easier. But once I’d told them I was very comfortable in who I was and didn’t hide it anymore.”
The 31-year-old says she has not experienced homophobia on the rugby pitch or in her personal life. Although she has been the object of unwanted attention on nights out from men who refuse to accept that she is gay or see it as a “challenge to turn you”.
“In rugby you can just be who you want to be. You can just be you and you don’t get judged,” Snowsill explained.
“I think the fact that in rugby you have such different body types playing in one team, you have such different personalities and skill sets and you have such a variety of different people that it creates an environment where everyone’s accepting of everything.”
Journey to the top
Snowsill has certainly found the game to be a welcoming environment since she made the decision to switch her focus from football as a 19-year-old.
Born in Ascot, England to a Welsh mother and English father, Snowsill and her family relocated to Cardiff when she was seven.
As a youngster she excelled at football and represented Wales at age-grade level, only picking up a rugby ball aged 15 when a teacher at her school organised a girls’ touch team.
Snowsill was soon spotted by Sophie Bennett, who at the time was a Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) National Programme Coordinator, and encouraged to give the 15-a-side game a go.
She subsequently joined Cardiff Harlequins, and having successfully evaded being tackled during her first contact session, played two matches for the club on the wing. In only her third and fourth 15s matches, Snowsill pulled on a red shirt to represent Wales under-19s.
“My first Welsh cap for the under-19s, I wasn’t taking it that seriously at the time because I’d only played two rugby matches. I just thought it was a bit of fun really,” Snowsill said.
Our Welsh team are so excited to be back working in schools and devising new activities! #Charity #Rugby #SocialDistancing #GrowthMindset pic.twitter.com/rdrlZnTEtY— SchoolofHardKnocks (@SOHKCharity) July 20, 2020
It wasn’t until she was moved to fly-half, and saw more of the ball, on a Wales U20s tour of Canada in the summer between her first and second years at university, that she made the decision to prioritise rugby ahead of football.
It has proved a wise choice for Snowsill, who has played at three Rugby World Cups, one Commonwealth Games and been selected for the Barbarians.
Her appearance for the Barbarians against the USA last April proved particularly memorable as footage of her connecting with a back-heel ‘rainbow’ kick on a penalty move went viral.
“Playing for the Baa-Baas is the best rugby experience I’ve ever had. It was just incredible and I’m just so grateful that I had it,” she said.
“[Emma Jensen] wrote that into her penalty move, and she was my roomy as well so she showed me in the morning and I was like, ‘oh God, Emma, I really can’t do this’. And she was like, you can, you really can.
“Having someone like that put her trust in me and her faith in me, and having the coach say, ‘yeah, let’s go for this one’, it gave me the confidence in myself. If they believe in me then I’ve got to believe in me as well.
“Doing it was really cool and I was gutted we didn’t score off it because that was amazing.”
School of Hard Knocks
When Snowsill returned to her day job at the School of Hard Knocks in south Wales the following week, she saw children in playgrounds attempting to master the trick, and devised a way to teach them the skill.
She is driven by her work with the charity, which uses rugby as a tool to teach positive values and behaviours to 750 adults and children every year, and has dual ambitions for her post-playing career — whenever that may come.
“In terms of the future, I have two goals,” Snowsill revealed. “I’d love to be a head coach of a team. I’d love to eventually be head coach of an international team, I think that would be awesome and I think we need to get more females coaching at the top level.
“I’d also like to set up a private school for School of Hard Knocks kids. So, obviously they don’t have to pay for it themselves, but for the ones that are in a tough environment at home, if we could have them in Monday to Friday or something and set up a school for that then that would be the dream.
“So, two different goals and we’ll see where it takes me.”
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