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Out and embracing it

Catching up with Kirk Walker, first out coach in Division I NCAA



Kirk Walker, Oregon State University, softball, gay news, Washington Blade
Kirk Walker, Oregon State University, softball, gay news, Washington Blade

Kirk Walker left Oregon State University as the ‘all-time winningest’ softball coach in the school’s history. (Photo courtesy of Kirk Walker)

When Kirk Walker and his partner Randy Baltimore decided to adopt a child in 2005, the process required the couple to fill out public records, which led to Walker making the important decision to do what no other head coach in Division I NCAA had ever done — come out to his team and the world. (Since his announcement, Sherri Murrell, head women’s basketball coach at Portland State, has also come out.)

“For probably five or six years before I came out, I was definitely in a place where I would not hide it and I wouldn’t lie about it, but I wasn’t necessarily sharing it and it wasn’t a point of conversation,” he says. “It certainly wasn’t something I shared with my team. In fact, my team was a very big turning point for me in terms of being more vocal.”

Walker was in his 11th season as head softball coach with Oregon State University at the time and it was important to him that his players learn he was gay from him, rather than through the news reports that were certain to follow.


Kirk Walker, Oregon State University, softball, gay news, Washington Blade

Kirk Walker on the field at the University of California at Los Angeles, his current coaching post and alma mater. (Photo courtesy of Kirk Walker)

“I brought up the topic and I shared it with them,” he says. “For the next year or so, I was a little reluctant to do a lot of articles and interviews, because I didn’t want that to be the first thing listed on my resume, that I was the ‘gay coach,’ and that was partly my ego. I wanted my record to stand from my coaching world for who I was.”

Eventually, Walker decided that he was being selfish and that his attitude was diminishing the impact he could have, and proudly wore the label as “the coach who came out.”

Last season, Walker was offered an assistant coaching position for UCLA’s softball program and decided to make the move. He was an alumnus of the school and had previously served as a coach for the Bruins from 1984-1994, helping his alma mater to six NCAA National Championships.

Walker left OSU as the Beavers’ all-time winningest softball coach, with a 594-491 record, and led the team to 10 postseason appearances, including the College World Series in 2006 and the NCAA regionals in 2012.

Somewhat surprisingly, Walker believes he is making a bigger impact with LGBT students in his new role.

“As the role of a head coach, I know I was an example for people and they were respectful and appreciative, but a head coach is someone who is hard to seek out and share personal issues,” he says. “Now, being an assistant, I am in a different role and I certainly see more accessibility to me as a resource.”

In April, Walker, in conjunction with UCLA Athletics and UCLA Recreation, held an event for Athlete Ally, an organization that educates athletes, coaches and fans on issues regarding sexual orientation and sports. UCLA released a “You Can Play” video, which encourages acceptance and tolerance for gay athletes in all levels of athletics, and UCLA head football coach Jim Mora became the first current major college football coach to encourage gay athletes to play for his team.

“Coach Mora is fantastic and has been since I was hired,” Walker says. “I didn’t doubt for one minute that he wouldn’t be on board with the video we were producing and I certainly was very pleased he was so honest about how he felt, and I believe that was very powerful.”

Athletes from throughout the UCLA program — male and female — were on-board and Walker was impressed with the younger generation’s acceptance and support for teammates and individuals who might be LGBT.

Walker was happy that NBA player Jason Collins felt secure enough to come out and doesn’t believe that moments like this are as big a deal as many others do, calling it a safer climate today.

“I think anytime a high-profile person identifies as LGBT, especially in the sports world, it’s important, but I often said that there are many people in the media and the LGBT community who believe the first pro athlete or first football player or first basketball player that came out would be an earth-shattering moment, but I never really ascribed to that,” he says. “I think it’s fantastic, I think it’s great, but I don’t think an event like that means everything has changed.”

So, when contemplating why more athletes aren’t following Collins’ lead, Walker admits part of it is the perception of the public and part the perception of teammates. Still, he thinks the external struggle is the greatest challenge.

“For high-profile athletes, they worry, “Will I still be one of the guys? Will they still value me as a teammate and want me to be part of their family?’ and I think that’s a big roadblock,” Walker says. “I think the dialogue and having more conversations about LGBT athletes, coaches and individuals has created an opportunity in the locker room where there are some vocal people who will stand up and be supportive.”

As the new UCLA softball season is set to get underway, Walker is looking forward to more excitement and success from the team in his role as assistant to coach Kelly Inouye-Perez.

“I have relished the opportunity to be back in that role as an assistant and it’s been great. I have no regrets about making the move at this point in my career,” he says. “My passion in coaching is about changing lives and building individuals into the best person they can be moving into the real world.”

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  1. Lisa Monchalin

    August 31, 2013 at 9:07 pm

    Fantastic news. Kirk rocks. But in terms of doing what "no other head coach in Division I NCAA had ever done," I do need to mention Charley Sullivan, who was my rowing coach while at Eastern Michigan University – which is a division 1 NCAA team. Not only was he an AMAZING coach, but he was openly gay to our team and the world. I started there in in 2001, and he was openly gay then, before that, and now. And before EMU, he was a coach at the University of Michigan Mens Crew Team – which he is also back to coaching now! Both Kirk and Charley are an inspiration!

  2. Nicole Barker

    September 1, 2013 at 12:14 am

    I will have to agree with my good friend and former EMU Division 1 NCAA team mate Lisa that although this story on Kirk is truly deserving of publication, it is important to give credit where credit is due. The fact that Charley was openly gay, confident and accepting of others from all walks of life was one of the reasons I chose to go to EMU on a rowing scholarship in 2002. I have great admiration for my former coach Charley and appreciate the courage it must have taken him, as well as Kirk, to make public and embrace their sexual orientation in an athletic setting.

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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”



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.
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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



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.

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Proud to be a Fury

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



(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.

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