These gay rugby players are dismantling stereotypes with their powerful new campaign.

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Rugby is no joke. Especially in South Africa.

The team sport is fast and aggressive. And to the untrained eye, it’s primal and chaotic. And while the game has gained some recent traction in the U.S ., around the world it’s commonly used. In South Africa, competitive rugby is more than a game: It’s an the enterprises and a tradition.

South Africa is home to the Springboks( the national rugby squad) and several provincial rugby unions, each fielding a professional rugby team and amateur clubs. The country also fields six professional teams for the Super Rugby rivalry where club compete with squads from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Argentina.

It’s a big business, and home or away, national pride is always on the line.

But, sadly, something else is all too common in South Africa: Hate crimes, specifically against the LGBT community.

Despite having a progressive constitution( even lauded by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg) and legal protections against discrimination on the books, progress has been slow.

Stigma, negative stereotypes, and homophobic violence persist, making it difficult for LGBT people to live freely or pursue personal and professional passions without anxiety of harassment or attack.

Protestors resisting a proposal to remove the term “sexual orientation” from section 9( 3) of the South African Constitution, which prohibits unjust discrimination. The proposal did not pass. Photo by Rodger Bosch/ AFP/ Getty Images.

However, one group is celebrating South Africa’s rugby tradition while dismantling tired stereotypes about gay men.

Meet the Jozi Cats.

What a handsome bunch of guys at Saturday’s practice. Love you guys! #rugby #gay rugby #jozicats #handsome #sporty #boys
A photo posted by Jozi Cats (@ jozicatsrugby) on May 10, 2016 at 1:57 pm PDT

They’re South Africa’s first competitive homosexual and inclusive rugby team .

Based in Johannesburg, the Jozi Cats hope to join the ranks of other gay rugby cub around the world and compete in the World Outgames( an Olympic-style event for LGBT athletes) and the Bingham Cup, an annual tournament for lesbian rugby clubs. The Jozi Cats would be the first team from the entire continent of Africa to participate in the latter.

But to stay competitive and offer opportunities for gay men to pursue the athletic, they had to recruit some new players.

Jozi Cats player and head of Havas Public Relations in South Africa Chris Verrijdt realise the diversity and inclusivity in their ranks. Many of the players didn’t fit the “conventional” mold or expectation people might have for a gay athletics league.

Larry Viljoen, tighthead prop for the Jozi Cats. Image via Havas WW South Africa/ YouTube .

“…they just are lesbian dudes who happen to like rugby, ” he told Upworthy.

Verrijdt and the team wanted a style to challenge long-held the idea of masculinity and homosexuality, while recruiting some new talent. And since their publicity budget was nonexistent, raising a few eyebrows along the way couldn’t hurt.

With an idea in the works, Verrijdt set up a shoot with the team and a photographer.

In a behind-the-scenes video for the campaign, the players described their care and responsibility to get this right not just for the team but for other LGBT people in South Africa.

“We’re operating a campaign to make awareness of people who are lesbian within national societies, to have heroism to actually step out, ” said the team’s all-rounder Chris Herbst, who actually came out to his friends and family by participating in the campaign.

Members of the team pose for photographer Werner Prinsloo . Image via Havas WW South Africa/ YouTube .

The finished product real players reclaiming derogatory lesbian slurs is shocking but drives home a very important message.

No matter how the world assures you …

Photo by Werner Prinsloo for Havas WW South Africa/ Jozi Cats, used with permission.

Or how you see yourself …..

Photo by Werner Prinsloo for Havas WW South Africa/ Jozi Cats, used with permission.

Safe and greeting spaces do exist.

This is Chris Herbst. Photo by Werner Prinsloo for Havas WW South Africa/ Jozi Cats, used with permission.

And there are plenty of people who will respect and support you just the way you are.

Photo by Werner Prinsloo for Havas WW South Africa/ Jozi Cats, used in conjunction with permission.

Or as center Teveshan Kuni said :

So far, the response to the project has been overwhelmingly positive.

“We have just hit over 1, 000 Likes on our page and the video of the shoot has been viewed in over 126 countries, ” Verrijdt said.

But it’s not just an international hitting, the campaign is actually an effective recruiting tool. New players are wondering about the team and coming out to practices and play touch rugby matches on Thursday nights.

The Jozi Cats at work. GIF via Havas WW South Africa/ YouTube .

As happy as Verrijdt and the Jozi Cats are about their brush with viral fame, this was always about something bigger.

The Jozi Cats have always been about been about constructing connections and sharing competitive rugby with other lesbian men and allies. This project, however unconventional, is helping them do only that.

“Who knows the extent of what historical moments we are creating here for homosexual rugby and social inclusion, ” Verrijdt said.

“Perhaps Jozi Cats will create South Africa’s first openly gay sportsman? Which for a country with one of the most liberal constitutions in the world, is amazing that we havent been able to do so. Yet . ”

Photo by Werner Prinsloo for Havas WW South Africa/ Jozi Cats, used in conjunction with permission.

Read more: www.upworthy.com

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