One of the world’s leading women’s rugby players, Ruby Tui has proudly flown the rainbow flag while representing Aotearoa. She talks to express about her new commentary gig at Sky Sport, the success of her memoir ‘Straight Up’, the future of her professional rugby career and Campbell Johnstone’s coming out.

Ruby Tui has been considering her options. After a decade of playing professional rugby and becoming the sport’s biggest female star, she gets to call the shots. 

She tells us she will only align with brands who are making a concerted effort to support Rainbow staff and communities. One of these sponsorships recently took her to Australia’s Gaytimes festival, an experience that leads Ruby to reflect, “I have learned so much from the Rainbow community this year.”


Ruby tells us that Gaytimes was her first experience of knowingly meeting members of the trans community, understanding the meaning behind the trans pride flag, and seeing post-op trans men walking around with their shirts off. “It was beautiful,” she tells us. 

“At night, there were a couple of clubs that would have been full of hundreds of men squished in together. If that was at a club in town, they’d 100% be a fight. But they were just so full of love! If someone bumped into you, they’d be like “Honey, I’m sorry,” and introduce themselves… there was just so much acceptance and zero judgment.

“It was incredible. Society could learn so much from the rainbow community in terms of having no judgment and just including everybody,” she explains.

2023 is already shaping up to be an important year for LGBTQ+ sports, with the first All Black coming out publicly, making headlines around the world. When Campbell Johnstone announced he was gay in a Seven Sharp interview, Ruby took to Twitter to say that she had ‘never been more proud of an All Black.’

“I had dreamed about that day but I didn’t know if I’d see it in my career. In the women’s game if someone is bi or gay it doesn’t matter. Everyone’s really supportive. But I know, it’s different for the men, which is really sad. I always try and make the rainbow flag visible because I believe that’s how you make the world a better safer place for everyone, but I just know that there are some males I won’t be able to reach. So when Campbell came out I just thought it was the most beautiful thing and hopefully, the start of something way bigger.” 

Ruby tells us she immediately messaged Campbell and asked if he would meet her for a coffee. He agreed. “I told him, ‘you’re actually a hero of mine.’ I reckon he saved at least one life. I know he’s helped guys in a way that I could only dream of. We agreed that hopefully one day you won’t have to come out because it won’t be a thing. I know with the growth I’ve seen in women’s rugby that very likely could happen,” she says with optimism.

In addition to Campbell, Ruby credits the advocacy shown by TJ Perenara as a hugely important step for rugby. 

“TJ Perenara went around high schools with [openly gay Olympic rower] Robbie Manson, just saying, ‘it’s all good [to be gay]’ and that’s so important. I’d like to see more players doing that.”

Thanks to the brave actions of Campbell and TJ, Ruby believes a path is being forged for an active All Black to one day come out and represent Aotearoa New Zealand at the World Cup. When that day comes, Ruby echos the advice she gives in her best-selling memoir ‘Straight Up’, that player will need to have a good support network set up around them to prepare, while things are calm, for a potential storm. 

“You’ve got to work on your mental health when you’re happy and good, as well as when you’re bad. We’re all guilty of just trying desperately to work on it when they’re not going well, but when you’re going good, it’s really important to set up your support structures before anything goes down. From unions to teammates to friends that you trust. Hopefully, it won’t, but it has the potential to kind of go crazy, so if you’ve got those people there it would definitely be a lot easier.”

It is ‘Straight Up’ advice like that which has gained Ruby’s autobiography critical acclaim, including The Spinoff’s award for 2022’s Book of the Year.

“I just wanted a woman’s rugby novel out there. I didn’t really think much of my story. It’s just what has happened to me and everyone’s got a story,” she tells us humbly.

Ruby’s story is one of resilience – overcoming the trauma of a childhood marred by domestic abuse. She tells us that writing about her personal childhood struggles has brought her and her mum closer. 

“For the first time in my life. She got to really understand, almost viscerally, how her getting out of this horrible violent relationship, made her my real-life hero. I just assumed she did, but she never knew how much that meant to me and how it affected me.”

Ruby says the hardest part to write about was not the domestic violence of her youth but a friend’s suicide in recent years, telling us, “writing a book, you figure out where you have done the work and are sitting in an okay place and where you haven’t – and sometimes that can surprise you.”

She admits, “it racks up all your insecurities writing a book about your life. But if you’re being absolutely authentically you and you’re just honest, people can’t argue with it. If you stand up and you’re brave and vulnerable; it’s undeniable. It’s not even about wrong or right. It’s just, that person is being straight up”

While Ruby was confident about the authenticity of what she had written and openly spoken about multiple relationships she had had with women, it occurred to her that she hadn’t specifically addressed the Rainbow community.

“I actually called my editor and said, hold on, I need to add another chapter. I consciously inserted it to talk about my sexuality, just because I know there’ll be people out there, struggling with it or don’t know how to identify it. I also wanted to talk about religion and sexuality just to try and help people going through that struggle,” she explains, describing a chapter many critics have highlighted in their applause of the book.

Ten successful years on the professional pitch has opened further doors for Ruby who recently joined Sky Sport commentary team for Sky Super Rugby Aupiki. Working on the broadcasting side is a full-circle moment. Ruby had studied Communications at University.

“I always thought, if I couldn’t crack it in sport, at least I’ll be able to help grow the women’s game working in media. My dream was always to commentate on a women’s game and to be able to share my passion with the world,” she tells us but confesses to getting a little frustrated while standing on the sidelines.

“I always have my boots handy. I want a play. I don’t know if that ever will go away,” she confesses.

As express goes to print, it looks like Ruby will return to playing the sport she loves next season, and continue to be a key player in the growth of women’s rugby. That feels particularly fitting when Ruby light-heartedly compares the growth of the sport to her own rugby career.

“When I first started, I was so bad. I couldn’t pass. I was the worst in just about every team I played on,” she laughs, adding, “because women’s rugby wasn’t big. I didn’t find it until I was 18. I have played netball for years, so when I first joined my first women’s rugby team I kept chest-passing the ball like a netball!”

“I got so much flack for that,” she laughs, telling us, “but I worked on it. And I feel like as a country we have worked on our equity in sport and it’s gotten better and we’ve all grown.”

Now a decade deep in her career Ruby is one of the more experienced and biggest name players on the team. “I always laugh because there’ll be the first-year 18-year-olds in the room when a new policy gets announced, and I’m fighting tears because I know how long we fought for that. And they’re just like, ‘what’s the big deal?!’ But I actually love that. Because it she the progress we’re making.”

Wherever the next years of her career take her, Ruby is happy that she has gotten to play and help the game she loves, grow.

“I had lots of dreams when I started my career, and they’ve been blown out of the water. So I’m just really grateful,” she reflects. 

While the queer community has taught about inclusion and acceptance, she has truly repaid that by giving us an active national sports star we can truly be proud of. One never afraid to fly the rainbow flag. Thank you Ruby!

Article | Oliver Hall.

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