Connect with us

Sports

Let the Gay Games begin

Cleveland prepares for its close-up after controversies

Published

on

Les Johnson, Team D.C., gay news, Washington Blade
Les Johnson, Team D.C., gay news, Washington Blade

Les Johnson and Team D.C. expect to field a strong contingent at next year’s Gay Games in Cleveland. (Washington Blade file photo by Pete Exis)

The two quadrennial international sports competitions taking place in 2014 — the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and the Gay Games in Cleveland — couldn’t be setting more dissimilar tones.

Though it hasn’t been without its own controversies, next August, organizers of the Cleveland Gay Games are prepared to welcome the LGBT athletes that Russia vows to muzzle.

Rob Smitherman, sports and operations director for Cleveland’s Gay Games 9, said that, even as much of the western world begins to embrace LGBT rights, the continued need for the Gay Games couldn’t be more obvious since Russia and the IOC have begun warning athletes not to attempt to test the nation’s new anti-gay “propaganda” law.

FIND MORE OF THE WASHINGTON BLADE SPORTS ISSUE HERE.

“People need a place to come to feel that they are safe and to express themselves fully,” Smitherman said. “To be who they are, not feel like they have to hide in any way. And it’s still important.”

He said athletes from around the world still contact him saying they can’t compete and be open anywhere besides the Gay Games.

“Even in the United States and Europe, we still need this. For the kids in small towns and states like Alabama.”

Atlanta-based 10-year hockey veteran Chuck Hagel — who will be attending for the first time as an official and a participant with his group Gay Hockey International — said the games are much different than other traditional, non-sporting events because they are inclusive of people of all ages, ability levels, and even include a focus on non-competing attendees.

“This particular event is incredible because it brings together athletes of all different playing levels, different types of sport,” Hagel told the Blade, adding that the games are perfect for those who may have felt less included or sidelined in other championship events. “Promoting athleticism and camaraderie at all different age groups.”

Smitherman touts the walkability of all of the venues from the official 30 host hotels in Cleveland and Akron offering registrants special rates through the Games’ site. Early bird registration ends Sept. 1, but Team D.C. announced in its Facebook group a special discount through Sept. 15 for Team D.C. members.

Team DC President Les Johnson — who attended the 2010 games in Cologne, Germany with more than 100 other Team D.C. participants as a bowler — said that for most athletes at the Gay Games, competing is about “personal best.”

“It’s something that ordinary people don’t experience,” Johnson said of experiencing the festive and affirming spirit of the Gay Games. “Getting that medal really means a lot because you’re competing against all of your peers”

“Cleveland is going to be totally different because we can drive to Cleveland,” Johnson said, contrasting it with Cologne. Johnson said Team DC could bring more than 500 athletes.

Ten percent of the 11,000 expected attendees have already registered. Most competitive events are free for spectators, making this an ideal getaway for LGBT sports fans — assuming there are hotel rooms left.

“People need to get a move on and get registered,” said Smitherman, who has attended and played basketball in four Gay Games.

Smitherman said participants should be excited about the non-sporting events too, with opening ceremonies at the home of the Cavaliers basketball team, Quicken Loans Arena, and closing ceremonies taking place at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame — all within walking distance of the hotels.

Pink Flamingo is an event that many who attend Gay Games look forward to, where aquatics teams compete for prizes performing synchronized swimming routines in outrageous costumes.

“It’s kind of a highlight of the games every time,” said Smitherman.

Besides official Gay Games events, Johnson said the games always feature a multitude of unofficial parties every night around town, and Smitherman said that his group is working with local theaters and galleries to offer even more cultural opportunities. Additionally, the Gay Games is partnering with the International Gay Rodeo Association to bring an event to Akron as part of the festivities.

Smitherman said the Gay Games 9 organizers are eager to move on after a previous group, the Synergy Foundation, had its license revoked by the Federation of Gay Games, which the Washington Blade reported on extensively.

“Our organization is a gay organization that has a really diverse board. We have straight people on our board,” Smitherman tells the Blade, saying while their involvement with the Gay Games ended abruptly, had it not been for Synergy Foundation, Cleveland would not have won its bid for the games against other the larger cities competing, including Washington, D.C. and Boston. “We’re way past the drama of ‘who should host the games.’”

Johnson said Russian athletes also plan on taking part in the Gay Games.

“I’m not for boycotting personally, but it does seem some kind of action needs to take place,” Johnson said regarding the legal quagmire faced by athletes, coaches, personnel, trainers and fans heading to Sochi, where any demonstration of support for LGBT people could be penalized.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sports

Formula One racing star wears LGBTQ Pride helmet at Qatar Grand Prix

“It’s down to whether you decide to educate yourself, hold the sport more accountable and make sure the sport is actually doing something”

Published

on

Lewis Hamilton Formula One helmet design via Hamilton's Twitter

DOHA, Qatar – Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team’s seven time Grand Prix champion driver Lewis Hamilton won in the inaugural run of the Qatar Grand Prix Formula One race Sunday.

That was not the only significant event that the 36-year-old race car driver participated in during his Qatar stay as prior to the race, Hamilton had shown support for the LGBTQ+ community during a practice session on Friday, wearing a a helmet featuring the Pride Progress Flag, a redesigned and more inclusive version of the traditional rainbow flag, and emblazoned with the words “We Stand Together.”

The flag features additional black and brown stripes to highlight the oppression of people of color, as well as pink and blue stripes for the trans flag and a purple circle on a yellow background, which is the intersex flag.

On his personal Twitter account the Formula One racer tweeted pictures of his helmet, which he wore at the end of Trans Awareness Week and this weekend which marks the International Transgender Day of Remembrance on Saturday.

Hamilton had received a knighthood from the British monarch Queen Elizabeth II in December a year ago for his human rights and advocacy work with his private charity, The Hamilton Commission, which the Stevenage, Hertfordshire, UK native set-up to simultaneously address the underrepresentation of Black people in UK motorsport, as well as the STEM sector.

The queen’s honors are awarded twice a year, in late December and in June, when the monarch’s birthday is observed. The awards acknowledge hundreds of people for services to community or British national life. Recipients are selected by committees of civil servants from nominations made by the government and the public.

In an interview with the Guardian, Hamilton said that he believes “sportspeople are duty bound to speak out on human rights matters in the countries they visit. With Qatar hosting its first Formula One Grand Prix this weekend and facing new allegations of worker exploitation and abuse in its preparations for next year’s football World Cup, Hamilton insisted he would hold the sport to account for the places it chooses to race.

Prior to the debut of the Qatar Formula One race and with the 2022 FIFA World Cup matches slated for 2022 in Qatar, focus once more fell on human rights issues. The Guardian reported that workers within the state have claimed that reforms to the country’s restrictive kafala labour sponsorship system have been ineffective while human rights groups continue to highlight oppressive male guardianship policies as well as discriminatory laws against women and LGBTQ+ individuals.

Lewis Hamilton 2016 Malaysia Grand Prix
(Photo by Morio)

“We’re aware there are issues in these places that we’re going to,” Hamilton told the Guardian. “But of course [Qatar] seems to be deemed as one of the worst in this part of the world. As sports go to these places, they are duty bound to raise awareness for these issues. These places need scrutiny. Equal rights is a serious issue.”

He added: “If we are coming to these places, we need to be raising the profile of the situation. One person can only make a certain amount of small difference but collectively we can have a bigger impact. Do I wish that more sportsmen and women spoke out on these issues? Yes.

“It’s down to whether you decide to educate yourself and hold the sport more accountable and make sure the sport is actually doing something when they go to those places.”

CNN reported that British intersex activist and columnist Valentino Vecchietti finalized the version seen on Hamilton’s helmet, which includes the intersex flag. “It means everything,” Vecchietti told CNN. “I can’t express what an amazing, massive, massive thing Lewis Hamilton has done. And I feel emotional talking about it, because we are so hidden and stigmatized as a population.”

The Pride Progress flag by Valentino Vecchietti to include representation for the intersex community.
Continue Reading

Sports

International Olympic Committee issues new “Framework On Fairness” for inclusion of Trans Athletes

The International Olympic Committee announced new guidance allowing “every person” to participate & abandons testosterone levels as criteria

Published

on

International Olympic Committee Headquarters (Photo by Greg Martin; courtesy IOC)

LAUSANNE, Switzerland – Following the first Olympic Games in which transgender athletes not only competed but made history by winning a gold medal, the International Olympic Committee stunned the world of sport Tuesday by not revising the criteria focused on testosterone, as expected, but moving away from it altogether. 

The IOC announced its new Framework on Fairness, Inclusion and Non-Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity and Sex Variations in a Zoom meeting hosted in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The leaders said they consulted with 250 athletes and “concerned stakeholders” including medical and legal experts over two years, and determined “every person has the right to practice sport without discrimination and in a way that respects their health, safety and dignity.” While stressing that competitive sports “relies on a level playing field,” the IOC tacitly acknowledged the complaints of trans-exclusionary cisgender women athletes by stating support for “the central role that eligibility criteria play in ensuring fairness, particularly in high-level organized sport in the women’s category.”

GLAAD heralded the announcement as making it clear that “no athlete has an inherent advantage over another due to their gender identity, sex variations, or appearance.” 

“This is a victory for all athletes and fans, who know the power and potential of sports to bring people together and make us all stronger,” said Alex Schmider of GLAAD. “Sports are for everyone, and fairness in sports means inclusion, belonging and safety for all who want to participate, including transgender, intersex, and nonbinary athletes.”

What the IOC didn’t do was issue new criteria for testosterone levels and did not define who is or isn’t a woman, and for the first time in modern Olympic history, is walking away from its “one size fits all” guidance. It’ll be left up to each sport and governing body to determine who is eligible to compete. The IOC guidance is that the criteria should respect internationally recognized human rights, rely on robust scientific evidence as well as athlete consultation, and that “precautions be taken to avoid causing harm to the health and well-being of athletes.” 

Although intended to guide elite athletes, the committee suggested all levels of sport, even recreational and grassroots sport, respect inclusion and non-discrimination policies.

Here are the 10 principles outlined by the IOC to to welcome all athletes at every level of participation, centered on the values of inclusion, prevention of harm and non-discrimination.

1. Inclusion 

2. Prevention of Harm

3. Non-discrimination

4. Fairness

5. No presumption of Advantage

6. Evidence-based Approach

7. Primacy of Health and Bodily Autonomy

8. Stakeholder-Centered Approach

9. Right to Privacy

10. Periodic Reviews

Athlete Ally was one of the agencies consulted by the IOC in determining this framework. “We hope to continue working closely with the IOC to ensure that the policies and practices governing sport actually include and represent the diversity of people playing sport,” said Anne Lieberman, Director of Policy and Programs at Athlete Ally. 

“Far too often, sport policy does not reflect the lived experience of marginalized athletes, and that’s especially true when it comes to transgender athletes and athletes with sex variations,” said Quinn of Canada’s Olympic Soccer team and the world’s first trans nonbinary gold medalist. “This new IOC framework is groundbreaking in the way that it reflects what we know to be true — that athletes like me and my peers participate in sports without any inherent advantage, and that our humanity deserves to be respected.”  

“I think that the IOC has made a powerful statement in favor of transgender inclusion, but I think that items 5 and 6 in their framework are problematic,” said Joanna Harper, the visiting fellow for transgender athletic performance at Loughborough University in the U.K. and a former IOC consultant. 

“On average, transgender women are taller, bigger and stronger than cisgender women and these are advantages in many sports,” Harper told the Los Angeles Blade. “It is also unreasonable to ask sporting federations to have robust, peer-reviewed research prior to placing any restrictions on transgender athletes in elite sports. Such research is years or maybe decades away from completion. I do think that recreational sports should allow unrestricted inclusion of trans athletes.” 

As San Francisco-based trans journalist Ina Fried noted in Axios, the IOC said that sex testing, genital inspections and other medical procedures to determine gender put all athletes at risk of harm and abuse, not just trans, intersex and nonbinary athletes. But the bottom line, Fried wrote, is that this new framework isn’t legally binding on any sports governing bodies, which now have carte blanche to write their own rules for eligibility.

Continue Reading

Sports

Proud to be a Fury

New film a touching tribute to the history of women’s rugby

Published

on

(Photo courtesy of Coleen McCloskey)

The last time that the Blade checked in with DC Furies player Liz Linstrom, she mentioned that she would always contribute to the club even if injuries sidelined her ability to play.

That statement proved to be prophetic as Linstrom experienced her third ACL tear while in the beginnings of filming a documentary about the Furies.

Linstrom had created a short documentary on women’s rugby and femininity as an undergraduate student at William & Mary and the itch was still there to produce more creative work.

Even though she was working three jobs and playing with the Furies, she felt she had enough work flexibility to pitch a documentary to the club in the fall of 2019.

The original idea was a past, present, and future look at women’s rugby in the United States through the lens of the players. 

Established in 1978, the Furies quickly developed into a highly competitive club, and they are currently competing in the Mid-Atlantic Rugby Union and the Capital Geographic Union, with both Division 1 and Division 3 teams.

In March of 2020, the Furies were ramping up to host their 40th annual Ruggerfest tournament, one of the largest all-women’s rugby tournaments in the United States with brackets including high school, college, social, and competitive clubs.

Then the unexpected happened.

“COVID hit, the tournament was cancelled, and filming of the documentary came to an abrupt stop,” says Linstrom. “The story shifted to the resilience of women and club sports in a way that professional and semi-professional sports teams can’t relate.”

The resulting film, “Furious,” is a touching tribute to the history of women’s rugby, women’s rights, the Furies, tradition, family, and maneuvering through COVID.

Four gay women are central figures in the film with one being married and another nonbinary. The players share what women’s rugby was like in the 1970s.

“The beginnings of women’s rugby in the United States coincided with Title IX in 1972. As a sport in its early beginnings, teams couldn’t afford to push people away. If you wanted to hit someone, you were on the team,” Linstrom says. “By the 1990s, the women’s rugby community was advocating for LGBTQ rights and the Furies had Candace Gingrich as a long-time player. Eighty percent of the team were lesbians.”

Other aspects of women’s rugby that are brought to light are the camaraderie, commitment, sense of family, and the queer elements of the community.

One Fury player breaks her nose 20 minutes into a match, shoves a tampon up her nose, and goes back in as a blood substitution. Another player breaks her wrist and carpools five hours the next day to North Carolina to support her team during a game.

Toward the end of the film, Linstrom addresses the impact of COVID on a club team such as the Furies. Some are concerned about coming back to play and wonder whether the excitement will still be there. Others think about trying to replace the players who are leaving the D.C. area.

“Nothing will keep us from getting together. We are not pro athletes, but the highest levels of women’s rugby in the United States is still club teams,” says Linstrom. “The legacy of the club is very important to all of us. Every time we step onto the pitch, we are standing on the shoulders of the players who came before us. They are our founding bricks.”

“Furious” premiered online in September for family, friends, and Furies players with viewership in 15 states. Linstrom funded the project as producer and director along with a grant from Arlington Cultural Affairs. The film will now be submitted to festivals to reach a larger audience. 

Linstrom has moved on from her three part-time jobs and is now working full-time as a video editor at a production studio in Alexandria along with coaching rugby at American University. 

The Furies were able to play sevens rugby over the summer and had the first game of their fall fifteens season on Sept. 25.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular