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In the driver’s seat

Gay NASCAR vets hope to return to racing

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Evan Darling, NASCAR, gay news, Washington Blade
Evan Darling, Stephen Rhodes, NASCAR, gay news, Washington Blade

Evan Darling (left) and Stephen Rhodes say NASCAR is not as leery of gays as one might suspect. (Photos courtesy of Darling and Rhodes)

To the casual observer, NASCAR may seem conservative, but the sport has been largely welcoming to LGBT professionals in the industry. The main hurdle for drivers of any demographic, including some openly gay drivers, is finding sponsors.

Michael Myers, founder of Queers4Gears, a website aimed at gay and lesbian NASCAR fans, sees NASCAR as “warm and inclusive” of the LGBT community. He notes that Mathew Pattison, a prominent official in the Timing and Scoring Department, is openly gay and feels accepted by NASCAR. On his website, Myers wrote in 2011 about an incident in which a crew member with Red Bull Racing (now Infiniti Red Bull Racing), Tweeted an inappropriate comment about gay people. Within two days, the crew member was fired.

Stephen Rhodes, an out driver, is currently working toward returning to the NASCAR Camping World Track Series for the 2014 season. Rhodes took a hiatus in 2010 to help his partner open a cafe.

FIND MORE OF THE WASHINGTON BLADE SPORTS ISSUE HERE.

Rhodes’ sexuality was common knowledge in the garage for the majority of his career and had little impact. He did, however, experience a single negative experience related to his sexuality, but it is an anomaly he chooses not to dwell on.

“Having 15 years in this business and having that one experience isn’t going to hold me back,” he said, “and I don’t want to entertain and bring it back up because it is in the past.”

“There are at least 77 million NASCAR fans,” said Rhodes. “And if I get one percent of them and the LGBT community behind them, I’ll have a huge fan base.”

His role in the sport could help pave the way for future out drivers. Rhodes sees himself as, “following in Danica [Patrick]’s footsteps … I look forward to potentially being a spokesperson in the business for [my] community and trying to create some equality.”

The NASCAR Diversity Affairs department manages a Driver Development Program, which aids the careers of female and minority drivers. The mission statement does not include LGBT drivers. Representatives from Diversity Affairs were unavailable for comment.

Recently, Rhodes has spent time putting together media packages for sponsors and building his name in the NASCAR community in anticipation of the 2014 season.

He is encouraged by the leverage his sexual orientation may provide, saying, “by being a driver that happens to be gay and approaching LGBT-supportive corporations, I think it’s going to pique a little interest and set me apart from many other drivers that are out there.”

Like Rhodes, Evan Darling, an openly gay Grand-Am Road Racing driver, noticed positive reactions from those around him when he came out in 2007. Since then, however, he has lost sponsors, though he points to the economic crash of 2008 as a major factor.

Darling has not raced professionally for a year and is seeking sponsors to re-enter professional driving.

“The demographic that I race in front of is very conservative,” Darling said. “And all those people have kids that, whatever percentage are LGBT, get to see someone doing something positive in their community, in their little world. It could really make a big difference.

“It’s a very expensive sport,” Darling said. “I have to find … a good company that wants to get in front of a new demographic, a demographic they don’t generally market to.”

Myers echoed his sentiments, saying, “The finding of sponsors these days for racers is difficult whether you’re Dale Earnhardt Jr., Evan Darling, Justin Mullikin (an out driver in the NASCAR Grand National Sportsman division), or anyone in these cash-strapped times. If a person could drive a racecar and win, then there’s going to be an owner and a sponsor out there that are going to want to be a part of that.”

Each year, Myers crosschecks NASCAR sponsors with the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index. Most recently, he found that many companies earned a perfect score of 100, including Toyota, Ford, Best Buy, Budweiser and Coca-Cola.

According to Myers, the companies currently sponsoring NASCAR earned an average score of 80 from HRC. He notes that ExxonMobil brought down the average. In 2013, the company earned a rating of -25.

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Gus Kenworthy skis for Great Britain at 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics

The freestyle skiing Olympic medalist continues to advocate for sport to become a more accepting place for openly gay athletes

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Gus Kenworthy (Screenshot courtesy Beijing Olympic Winter Games/IOC)

Out British-American freestyle skier, actor, and YouTuber Gus Kenworthy, will be competing in his third Olympic Winter Games, but his first for Team GB next month for the 2022 Beijing Games. In 2014 and 2018 Kenworthy represented the USA where during the 2014 Sochi Winter Games in Russia he became an Olympic Silver Medalist.

In an interview recorded in December, Kenworthy stressed his personal mantra of ‘Let people be themselves.’ The freestyle skiing Olympic medalist continues to advocate for sport to become a more accepting place for openly gay athletes.

Having recently won bronze in slopestyle for Team USA at PyeongChang 2018, Kenworthy is aiming for another podium place at his “third and final Games”, where he’s focusing on halfpipe at Beijing 2022, representing Great Britain. Kenworthy said with quiet determination that this year’s Winter Games will be his last as an Olympic competitor.

Kenworthy joins a “record number” of openly LGBTQ+ athletes heading to the Beijing games, Outsports reported. The 2018 Winter Olympics featured 15 out queer athletes, and Outsports noted that the Beijing games will see more openly LGBTQ+ athletes than previously Winter Games.

PinkNewsUK notes that there was a question as to whether Kenworthy would be able to compete at the 2022 Winter Olympics, which kick off in February.

Just weeks ago, Kenworthy shared in an Instagram post that he recently got a “bad concussion” while at a training camp in Switzerland.

He explained that he’s had a “few serious” traumatic brain injuries in the past so the “seriousness of each added concussion has been stressed to me”.

 

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Out professional soccer player calls out ‘homophobic abuse’ from crowd

The Adelaide United player said he had “no words” to describe his disappointment at being the target of anti-gay insults from the crowd

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Photo courtesy of Josh Cavallo Instagram

Professional soccer player Josh Cavallo, who became the only openly gay top-flight male professional footballer last year, told his Instagram followers over the weekend that he experienced “homophobic abuse” during his last game. 

The Adelaide United player said he had “no words” to describe his disappointment at being the target of anti-gay insults from the crowd at AAMI Park during his team’s Saturday game against the Melbourne Victory.

“As a society it shows we still face these problems in 2022,” he wrote. “This shouldn’t be acceptable and we need to do more to hold these people accountable. Hate never will win. I will never apologise for living my truth and most recently who I am outside of football.”

Cavallo added that he was also targeted after the game online. 

“To @instagram I don’t want any child or adult to have to receive the hateful and hurtful messages that I’ve received,” he said. “I knew truely being who I am that I was going to come across this. It’s a sad reality that your platforms are not doing enough to stop these messages.”

The Australian Professional Leagues (APL) said it was “shocked and saddened” to hear Cavallo’s reports of “homophobic bullying,” according to the Guardian

“Our players, staff and fans have the right to feel safe on and off the pitch,” APL CEO Danny Townsend said. “There is no place for bullying, harassment or abuse in Australian football and we have zero tolerance for this harmful behaviour.”

The APL is working with both teams to investigate the incident, adding that sanctions will be issued to anyone involved. 

In a statement, Adelaide United Chief Executive Officer Nathan Kosmina said that the team was “appalled” at the “verbal abuse” that Cavallo received. 

“Adelaide United is proud to be an inclusive and diverse football club, and to see one of our players subjected to homophobic abuse is disappointing and upsetting,” he said. “Josh continues to show immense courage and we join him in calling out abuse, which has no place in society, and it will not be tolerated by our Club.”

The Melbourne Victory added that it “sees football as a platform to unite fans no matter what background. Spectators found to have breached these standards will be banned from future matches.”

At the end of his Instagram message, Cavallo thanked those sending him positive messages, love and support. 

“Love will always win,” he said. 

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Transgender climber completes 5th of 7 highest summits

Erin Parisi is the first out trans mountain climber to reach such heights. Next up she’ll make a second attempt to conquer Mount Denali.

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Erin Parisi (Photo courtesy of Erin Parisi)

SANTIAGO, Chile – Erin Parisi just returned from the bottom of the world, but already the out transgender  woman has set her sights on her next challenge in her mission to conquer the highest summits of each of the seven continents. 

”I have been trying to train and get to the tops of the highest mountain on every continent: Seven Peaks, seven summits, seven continents,” she said. “I just finished Antarctica, which is an extraordinarily difficult climb as far as logistics, as far as dealing with the weather and the environment, a mountain that’s only been climbed 2,000 times before.”

(Photo courtesy of Erin Parisi)

It was New Year’s Day when she spoke by phone to the Los Angeles Blade, from a hotel room in Santiago, Chile, where it’s summertime. Five summits down, two more to go. 

“In order, the first five are Mount Kosciusko in Australia. Then I did Kilimanjaro a second time — I climbed it once manifesting as a dude, and I decided that I wanted to do them all post-transition,” said Parisi. “Next, I did Mount Elbrus in Russia and then I did Aconcagua in South America, not too far from where I’m sitting right now.”

Parisi, 45, reflected on both her climb 16,050 feet to the summit of Vinson Massif in Antarctica, and her plans to return later this year to the tallest spot in North America: Mount Denali, 20,310 feet above sea level. Not the highest of the seven summits but considered by many experienced climbers to be the hardest. 

“Last year, we got flattened by wind,” said Parisi, who was disappointed that neither she nor anyone on her team were able to reach the summit due to those conditions and injuries. “I want to go back and have a little chat with Denali.” 

It certainly was challenging for Parisi, who hurt her hand so badly in last summer’s attempt, during Pride Month, that she requires surgery. She posted on Instagram back then, that she thought she had dislocated a finger in a rush to set up camp as they ascended to 14K feet, and it set off doubts that made her question continuing. Alone for two days, stranded for a total of six days in subzero temperatures by a vicious wind storm with gusts up to 60 mph, Parisi wrote that she “rested, journaled, meditated, shed a few tears,” and decided “Climbing isn’t about holding on, it’s about letting go.”

Good thing she did; It turns out Parisi did more than dislocate a finger. 

“There are a series of tendons that come down your pointer finger and around the base of your palm, called the volar plate, and that tendon got stuck in some climbing gear,” she said. “It looks like a dislocation. When it happened, I relocated it pretty quickly, but the pain was kind of unbearable for the next week or two. So, I finally went to the doctor last fall and they looked at it and they said, ‘It’s not going to get better. You tore up the ligaments and broken the volar plate.’ So, I have to have that reconstructed.”

That means she lived with that injury for four months and even climbed Vinson Massif without the benefit of her dominant right hand. Parisi credits her wife with finally convincing her to get it looked at.

“I just figured I was getting old, and it was sore, but she talked me into going to the doctor eventually,” said Parisi, uttering the words every spouse loves to see in print. “Yeah, she was right, like usual!”

Next up, Parisi said she will make a second attempt to conquer Mount Denali in Alaska. “That’s going to be next, sometime in summer of 2022.” And then next year: Mount Everest, the last of the seven summits, and at 29,050 feet, the tallest. 

“2023 is the 70th anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s expedition, and we want to be up there for the 70th anniversary,” she said. “I think it’s a little-known fact that Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay had a trans member on their team. And we want to tell her story.” That would be the story of Jan Morris, a journalist for The Times of London, who died in 2020.

Given her location, Parisi has been out of touch with news of the world as well as what’s been happening with her wife and their nine-year-old child in Colorado. She also missed both Christmas and New Year’s as well as her birthday. Well, almost missed, thanks to a surprise celebration organized by her fellow climbers and organizers back home, which she shared on Instagram

(Photo courtesy of Erin Parisi)

“My team and the @climbingsevensummits team surprised me by serving dessert bubbles 🥂 and cheesecake, and leading the entire camp in 2 rounds of “Happy Birthday.” I was completely embarrassed, but my mind was set at ease and I warmed to the idea that I might just fit with this crew climbing through New Year.”

Parisi really needed that boost; She was having doubts again. “Imposter syndrome is real, and after missing the Denali summit last May, I was confident I didn’t belong here,” she wrote on Instagram. That feeling stemmed from feeling as if she was “the only trans person” on the continent, not just last month, but ever. 

When she returned to civilization, the Los Angeles Blade caught her up on the latest controversies dogging the transgender population: hate directed at both UPenn swimmer Lia Thomas and Jeopardy! champion Amy Schneider, simply because they’re winning their respective competitions.  

“I don’t understand it, with the Jeopardy! champion, either, because, there’s no way to say she has any advantage, or that it’s unfair to anyone, or that she’s taken something from anyone else. I mean, there’s just no argument to disparage her by,” said Parisi. “It blows my mind how stubborn people are just recognizing somebody’s right to exist. Live and let live. And I’m hoping that 2022 somehow will be a better year.”

Parisi is active in promoting transgender rights, and the flag she carries on every expedition incorporates the trans pride flag designed by Monica Helms. “We really take pride in putting the pink, blue and white up there,” she said. “I climb these summits just to kind of remind myself and remind the world that you can be yourself and you can enjoy the things you enjoy. You don’t have to make a choice.”

Other than her lifelong love of mountain climbing, which she told TripAdvisor last summer began when she was climbing trees at age 6, Parisi said she finds joy in every part of living her authentic life. 

“I find joy in the outdoors. I find joy in breathing the fresh air. I find joy in my nine-year-old child. I convinced myself I was unlovable, and now I have probably, not even probably, hands down, the most loving relationship that I’ve ever had in my life, post-transition. I find great joy in being loved and loving. I love cooking and just everything about life is better, when you’re yourself.” 

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Follow Parisi’s adventures on Instagram at @transending7 and learn more about her mission and how to support her nonprofit organization at transending7.org

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