D.C. is known for its rabid fans whether they’re hoping for a Washington Redskins win, attending a Caps match or watching players round the bases at a Nationals game. Meet four of D.C. sports’ biggest gay supporters who bleed their team colors with pride.
Team: Washington Redskins.
Sami Holtz, an elementary physical education teacher hailing from Silver Spring, Md., has been a huge Redskins fan for years. Her wife, Abby, is more of a newcomer. She found herself engulfed in a world of burgundy and gold once the couple started dating.
“I didn’t marry you as much as I married the Redskins,” Abby jokes after listening to Sami excitedly recount tales of games.
And Sami has plenty.
One of her favorite memories is when she and her best friend went to a game right after free safety Sean Taylor’s murder in 2007. Sami says her ticket happened to have Taylor’s picture as the featured player. It’s a memento she still has to this day.
She recalls the multiple times she and her best friend, who is straight, attended Redskins games when the team was on a continuous losing streak. The pair still went to support and found themselves upgraded to club-level seats for half the games because the stadium was empty. But it only made the experience more fun for them both.
“Diehard Redskins fans are diehard Redskins fans. Whether they suck or they’re awesome, we don’t care. We go anyway,” Sami says.
Sami, Abby and Sami’s best friend are all members of Women of Washington Redskins, an organization for female fans. Through the organization, the trio have gone to the practice facility to run with the players. They were also given the opportunity to visit training camp for the day.
Sami and Abby aren’t limited to the Redskins. They enjoy attending games for D.C.’s women’s soccer team Washington Spirit as well. Sami says she loves watching U.S. women’s soccer games because she loves the sport but also because a couple players are LGBT. The couple also has been known to attend D.C. United games. For Sami, every D.C. game crackles with energy.
“I’ve been to D.C. United games and they make the whole stadium shake. D.C. area teams have such a rich history of fandom,” Sami says.
Team: D.C. United
Jim Ensor’s allegiance to D.C. United shouldn’t come as a surprise as he’s been playing soccer since he was a child and played on his college team.
Playing a sport as a gay man was a difficult feat for Ensor in those early years. He first told his family, which he describes as “a big, loving family but they were Catholic.” His family took it well and armed with hope from their acceptance, Ensor told his college coach.
“I was having difficulty and he kept saying, ‘What is it? What are you struggling with?’ So when I told him, he was OK with it and supportive. It explained some of the difficulties I was having focusing. It made me better. I could focus more on the task at hand instead of worrying,” Ensor says.
Ensor lives in Arlington, Va., with his fiancé, whom Ensor says isn’t as into sports. His family is also planning on attending the wedding.
And his love for soccer continued.
He became a D.C. United fan after attending one game with friends, a playoff match when they first won the MLS Cup in 1996.
Ensor’s made peace with his sexuality-related struggles in sports and hopes other athletes can find the same courage.
“Athletes put too much pressure on themselves and spend too much time assuming the world will reject them. But you want to be part of the team, you want to participate and compete,” Ensor says.
Team: Virginia Tech Hokies.
Randy Meck considers himself a lover of multiple sports teams including the San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Cowboys, Cincinnati Reds and the Nationals. But no team won his heart quite like the Virginia Tech Hokies.
Meck, who lives and works in McLean, Va., at the corporate headquarters for Hilton Worldwide, became a Hokies fan while a student at Virginia Tech. Years later, he is now a season ticket holder.
He attends most home games and even tries to catch a couple road games when he can. It’s also a sure thing to spot Meck at a Caps or Nationals game at some point during the season. When he’s not physically at a game, he’s transporting himself there via TV screen.
Being such a big sports fan made coming out to his family and friends a bit confusing for them.
“Most of them were like, ‘Wait a minute — you’re a big sports fan, you can’t be gay,’” Meck says. “I think for them it helped break down some of the gay stereotypes. There’s plenty of straight men who are not into sports. It doesn’t matter whether you’re gay or straight, it’s just what you’re into. I have plenty of gay friends in the D.C. area who go to games.”
Meck believes that the future of the gay community and sports will be a positive one as more athletes become brave enough to come out.
“Thirty, 40 years ago there were very few black athletes in pro sports and we know that has changed,” Meck says. “As athletes come out of the closet earlier and earlier … I can’t fathom coming out of the closet in high school. These days kids are coming out in fifth, sixth, seventh grades. By the time they get to high school, if they’re an athletic kid, they are now a gay athlete. And if they continue those guys are going to be the pros.”
He expects more current pro athletes to start coming out because of the changing society. He cites Michael Sam as an example and says his unsuccessful NFL run was due to skill level, not coming out.
“There were questions whether or not he would be a good pro player even before he came out of the closet,” Meck says. “If he was one of those guys who was highly ranked coming out of college and going into the pros, he would still be playing in the NFL and I don’t think it’d be a problem at all.”
Team: Washington Capitals.
Mario Villafranca grew up watching college football games thanks to his father and brothers. He attended the University of Texas and became a huge supporter of its football team. He also would attend Texas Stars games, a minor league hockey team located in Austin.
After moving to D.C., Villafranca dipped his toe into the NHL hockey waters when he attended his first Caps game. He’s been a fan ever since.
Villafranca is proud that the NHL is a supporter of the LGBT community and has a gay ally for every team. Goaltender Braden Holtby is the Caps’ appointed gay ally.
“Seeing Holtby at the gay Pride parade as a straight athlete, sends a great message to the D.C. community and across the country,” Villafranca says. “But there’s still some locker room stereotypes that don’t upset the players as it much as it bothers some of the mainstream male typical fans of sports.”
His husband Michael isn’t as big a sports fan but now and then he will root along for Texas football.
As for if the gay community is active enough in the D.C. sports scene, Villafranca says don’t let appearances fool you. He sees plenty of gay diversity at games from bears to twinks.
“I’m part of the bear community. I know men who are joyously flamboyant and they love playing on the D.C. sports teams and follow right along beside me,” Villafranca says.