YOU MAY have noticed a growing rainbow presence in cheer squads over the past few years.
A growing number of AFL/W clubs have developed – either organically or as a pointed decision – Pride or rainbow cheer squads, helping to provide a welcoming environment at the footy, which has historically been an uncomfortable or even downright hostile space for members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
It's a simple thing but sends a clear visual reminder with a single wave of a flag – everyone is allowed to feel safe at the football.
Sandie Zander co-founded the Port Adelaide Queer Squad with friend Caitlin Smith, the pair having previously been members of the Power's cheer squad.
You may have seen Zander – or more specifically, her giant flag combining the transgender and Port Adelaide colours – on the broadcast.
"I joined Port Adelaide's cheer squad in 2015 or 2016, which was before I transitioned," Zander said.
"My friend made a Port Adelaide-themed rainbow flag in 2019. After I transitioned, I was inspired to create a Port Adelaide-themed transgender flag, which has now been in the cheer squad for about two years.
"It was sort of out of the creation of those flags that we realised we didn't have a Port Adelaide supporter group so far, and we thought it was up to us."
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The Queer Squad have now been in operation for two men's and one women's season.
"A few of us were already part of the cheer squad originally, so we just started making our own flags and sat together, but we extended it out to a Facebook group and the community in general," Zander said.
"We've had a couple of meetups in a bar and watched away games. We also have our own line of scarves that we've created and sold in the last year or so, they sell really quickly when they're made. We also have badges.
"We also work with other supporter groups within the club as well. There's another main one called the Alberton Crowd. Most of us have already been a part of that group, so we get a lot of support from them as well."
Zander's flag is hard to miss. Measuring a whopping three by three metres, it's stored with the cheer squad's equipment and can be folded down to just one metre to sit in a bag.
"It was an overwhelmingly positive response. To be fair, a lot of people don't know what it represents, but those who do, have told me how incredible it is," she said.
"I've had some messages from random Port supporters from other states who have found me on Facebook and told me how much they appreciate it. Whenever that happens, I feel really touched."
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The unfortunate reality is there is still a need to encourage inclusivity and to make a conscious effort to create a safe environment for all supporters, especially those in the LGBTQIA+ communities.
Zander said it took her and her friends a long time to get security to move on a particularly unwelcoming group of supporters in the vicinity of the Queer Squad.
"I just love how so many clubs have created their own groups. Some have sprung up organically by the community, and others, I assume, are through the club," she said.
"We originally just sprung up as a group of friends, and eventually the club reached out and said, 'anything we can do to help, just let us know'.
"A lot of the scarves we've sold have been online and posted out. At our first AFLW home game, I kept seeing these couples who had a scarf each, walking away from the game holding hands, and I looked at that and thought it was so cute.
"It means something to so many people, and we ourselves sometimes don’t even realise it until later."