SÃO PAULO — In the nearly two years since it was formed, Unicorns FC, an amateur soccer team in São Paulo made up exclusively of LGBT players, only recorded one crisis: when a player, disappointed with a teammate's performance, said "soccer is a man's sport." For the club, it isn't — it's a sport for anybody.

With close to 50 members, the team defends a variety of values. First, you do not need to be good with a ball, just to want to have fun. Second, Unicorns FC wants to give an opportunity to gay people who like soccer but have been excluded from it at school or at work. Third, the club wants to occupy a social area still largely dominated by heterosexual males.

Thus, the "unicorns," as they call one another, take pleasure in kicking a ball around, but also in the liberty to exchange kisses, sport shiny boots, or pay colorful compliments for a particularly beautiful goal.

"We've put an end to the trauma of being the last one picked on the school's team, to the bullying we had to endure for not playing well," says Bruno Hist, a 29-year-old art director. "What predominates here is the unicorn mindset. We're nothing like your conventional soccer team."

Last month, six new players attended their first training session with the team. One of them was Rafael Marini, a 28-year-old production engineer. "A gay man is not very likely these days to be stopped from playing with heterosexuals, but there's always this sort of climate, these pejorative jokes, especially if you do something wrong," he says. "That's why I think the idea of Unicorns FC is very cool."

Eduardo Guzzardi, 32, one of the team's goalkeepers, is a good example of how skill on the field is not fundamental. But even his exotic-looking moves sometimes work. "You don't need a particular body physique to play," he says. "Our purpose is to have fun. We're open to all LGBT people. Even if somebody wants to play in high heels, nobody's going to stop them."

Photo: Unicorns FC Facebook page

Unicorns FC has already attracted its share of cheering supporters. And the players' spouses and partners also attend the weekly training session. They call themselves "bearleaders," a combination of cheerleaders and bears, as large, ruggedly masculine-looking gay men are sometimes called.

Daniel Lovizzaro, a 36-year-old finance manager, never misses any of his husband's games. For him, the team's creation is the "achievement of a generation."

"The new generation doesn't, or won't, face any more gender barriers," he says. "We never have any major problems here, in this universe that's basically straight. Sometimes we get dirty looks, maybe a joke or two, but nothing that crosses the line. The fact that there's so many of us also helps. Who'd be ready to face all of us girls?" he jokes.

The team has been so successful that there is already talk of a gay Copa America, with LGBT teams from Argentina and Mexico.

"We had the bad experience of playing against a straight team once," explains Filipe Marquezin, a 31-year-old lawyer and leader of Unicorns FC. "The trouble is that they were tense and aggressive because, in their minds, it would have been shameful to lose to gay people. It was nasty. We, in the meantime, were playing just for ourselves."

There is only one thing that Unicorns FC demands of its players, Marquezin says laughing: that they "don't speak ill of Madonna."

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