In July, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin both launched shuttles into outer space. This month I have been consumed with a shuttle mission of a different kind. Between amateur skirmishes with my partner in the backyard and the edge-of-your seat viewing provided by the athletes competing in Tokyo, badminton has offered a welcome distraction from our home’s four walls during the present and protracted lockdown.

And I’ve not been alone. Chatting with representatives from the Melbourne Smashers and Sydney’s Shuttle Swingers, both queer social badminton clubs, badminton has offered opportunities for connection for many within our community, even while court-time has proven so elusive.

For the Melbourne Smashers, 2021 has seen membership and participation on an unprecedented scale. They have 190 members, and have expanded play to a third night each week. Sang Thai and Mark Darling, the club’s Diversity and Inclusion Officers, admit that this is “a massive membership”, and one that is remarkable “considering how many times we’ve been in lockdown and unable to play”.

It is a credit, Sang and Mark say, to the strong leadership and values that the club has maintained over its 10 years in existence. And during lockdown, the club has offered virtual ‘Cooking with…’ sessions and personal training.

The Shuttle Swingers

Sydney Shuttle Swingers. Image: Facebook

As a much younger club, the Shuttle Swingers’ Sandra Lie and Jane Yuan estimate that they have spent as much time on the court as off it with the various COVID-safe restrictions over the past 18 months.

Founded only at the end of 2019, the Shuttle Swingers have already created a name for themselves within the substantial badminton community in Sydney, forging a dedicated community for queer women and their allies. And as far as Sandra and Jane are concerned, the time off the court has been as valuable as the time spent on it. Jane says of the post-play pub dinners, “the pub has been great. It’s been a place where we’ve had that hour or two to have really good dialogue around queerness, and around the LGBTQI community.

And we’ve had a lot of allies join us.” And this is a dialogue which has continued in their very active WhatsApp group throughout the suspensions in play.

Though harking from different capital cities, both clubs acknowledge and celebrate the role they play in winning and growing greater acceptance for LGBTQI identities within Asian communities here in Australia.

The Smashers

Melbourne Smashers. Image: Facebook

Sang says of the Smashers, “For a lot of our members, who obviously come from South Asian or East Asian areas, I would suggest that in a lot of the countries that they come from LGBTQI rights aren’t that strong. They are not able to come out, and they are still quite conservative in many ways… So, for me, when we organise things like Pride March, while we have a lot of members who aren’t coming to participate in those type of events, I still think our participation is really important in terms of their coming out journeys as well. We’re not just about being out, and then being out to play, but discovering identity and socialising, and understanding that there are different ways of being queer as well.”

These are sentiments shared by Sandra and Jane, and drive their leadership of the Shuttle Swingers. For them, sport is a critical vehicle for “normalising queerness in certain ethnic communities”. And Jane acknowledges the significant contribution Sandra has made in this regard.

“Sandra and I have both been going to other clubs as well, who are predominantly Asian, and I know that in those clubs there are queer people, who are afraid to come out. Sandra has gone and shown them photos of her wife and kids, and everyone’s fine with it. And it makes those players feel like maybe there is inclusion, and maybe it is okay to be queer. That’s been really powerful to see.”

Waiting For Courts To Reopen

A Melbourne Smashers game in progress. Image: Facebook

So what’s ahead for these clubs, when courts reopen? The Smashers intend to continue their mission to “provide as many opportunities for people of the LGBTQI community to come to a safe environment and be amongst people, and play badminton – something that is not socially-driven through drinking and those other things,” with Sang and Mark acknowledging that “these are not always ways that allow everyone to access the community.”

For the Shuttle Swingers the future is all about innovation and building their community. Key to this is pioneering new play formats that increase inclusion and accessibility. Both Sandra and Jane feel strongly that this is critical, “because badminton – similar to tennis – is always men versus men and women versus women, and that is not really in the spirit of our banner. We want to run tournaments where men play against women, and where you can have mixed doubles which are non-binary.”

Go on, take a swing!

If you would like to get involved, on the court or off it, you can contact the Melbourne Smashers via their website (www.melbournesmashers.com.au) and the Shuttle Swingers via their Facebook page (www.facebook.com/shuttleswingers).

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