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More straight athletes joining gay leagues

Finding fellowship in addition to competition

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straight athletes
straight athletes

Robbie Ladd, on left, who’s straight and married, plays in the DC Gay Flag Football League. He said it’s the most organized intramural league he’s seen. (Washington Blade photo by Kevin Majoros)

More than 30 years ago, in cities with large gay populations, LGBT sports teams and clubs began popping up. By playing sports with members of their own community, LGBT athletes were able to compete in a safe space with no fear of bullying or homophobia.

Over time, straight athletes began participating in the LGBT sports community. At first, it was relatives of the LGBT athletes showing up to compete at events as a show of support; a mother, a brother, a sister. About 10 years ago, a few bold straight athletes began joining the LGBT sports teams with no fears about any suspicions or backlash from their friends and family. Those people, such as husband and wife John and Ellyn Vail of the District of Columbia Aquatics Club became the first of a wave of straight sports allies.

Just in the past few years alone, the number of straight people joining LGBT teams and leagues is clearly noticeable. Pick any one of the more than 30 LGBT sports offered in the D.C. area and you will find straight players. The reasons for joining are probably different for each of them but it is safe to say that it is a glimpse of things to come.

Robbie Ladd is active duty military and he and his wife Jeanie Baker Ladd work as Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists. He has always played organized sports in civilian leagues and in the military. Earlier this year, he was at a party and heard about the DC Gay Flag Football League.

“I went out for the spring season and was drafted into the league and found it to be the most organized intramural community league I have ever competed in,” says Ladd.  “The players are down to earth and show up ready to play flag football.”

Ladd, along with his teammates, won the spring season championships. He was disappointed that he did not travel to Pride Bowl in Chicago where the D.C. players took the tournament title.

“I thought I wasn’t allowed to go because I am straight,” says Ladd. “I found out that I was welcome too late to join the travel team in Chicago.”

He did travel to Beach Bowl in Rehoboth Beach this summer where he and his teammates finished in second place.

“I have been very impressed with the incredible fellowship among the flag football players,” says Ladd. “One of the players lost a lot of his belongings in a house fire this year and all the players showed up with items to help him get back on his feet.”

Ladd and his wife are relocating to Fort Lauderdale soon where he just might look up the local LGBT flag football team.

Katie Lancos began playing water polo in Montreal when she was 12 years old and continued to play on her college team at Notre Dame. Right after college, she moved to D.C. and discovered the Washington Wetskins.

“I did a Google search and found about four teams, but the Wetskins came up first in the search,” says Lancos. “One of the frequently asked questions was: I am straight. Can I still play?”

Lancos joined the team and went on to compete at the International Gay and Lesbian Aquatic Championships when they were held in D.C. and again last year when they were held in Seattle. Last week, she competed at her first Gay Games and was joined in the pool by her brother Matt who is also straight.

“My friends are pretty open and I have never been challenged by anyone as to why I compete on an LGBT-based team,” says Lancos.

According to Lancos, the Wetskins are a very team-oriented group and she thrives in that atmosphere.

“The Wetskins are a wildly different group of people who have formed a family through the commonality of sports,” says Lancos.  “We all have a shared goal of wanting to win, train and be better.”

straight athletes

Kevin Donlon has a gay best friend and welcomes the opportunity to compete against him in a gay swimming league. (Washington Blade photo by Kevin Majoros)

Kevin Donlon grew up in California and played lacrosse at St. Mary’s College of California. After college, he switched over to U.S. Masters Swimming and began competing in triathlons. In 2012, he went with a friend to Darwin, Australia for the Asia Pacific Outgames and last week competed at his first Gay Games.

“My best friend is gay and I welcome any opportunity to spend time and compete with my friend,” says Donlon.

Donlon trains in California and was a popular addition to the District of Columbia Aquatics Club contingent at the Games. He says he found the LGBT swimmers to be kind, welcoming, happy and an easy group to integrate into.

“People struck up conversations with me more often than what I have experienced at straight meets,” says Donlon.  “And for an unexpected added bonus, the friendliness of the swimmers offered me the opportunity to strike up conversations, which is not something I usually do.”

Donlon won a bronze medal in open water swimming and a gold medal in the 1500 freestyle at the pool.

An unexpected twist to the intermingling of straight and LGBT athletes is that the flip side of the trend is also happening. Gay athletes are switching to straight leagues.

Kyle Suib started his rowing career at the University of Delaware and still wanting to compete beyond college, he joined the DC Strokes Rowing Club. He loved his time on the team and made several new friends but realized his competitive spark wasn’t satisfied.

“We were one unit in college and I just couldn’t identify as a gay rower,” says Suib. “I live and die by the sport and I just happen to be gay.”

Suib decided to leave the Strokes and had one of his college coaches give him the needed recommendation to join Potomac Boat Club rowing. He says his new teammates don’t focus on gay or straight. It’s all about the team. There are now four gay men on the Potomac Boat Club team and the four have been joined at Nellie’s and Town by their straight teammates.

“We are a family and now we are a more diverse family,” says Suib.

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PHOTOS: 2022 Baltimore Pride

Annual LGBTQ march held on Saturday

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Baltimore Pride 2022 (Washington Blade photo by Linus Berggren)

The 2022 Baltimore Pride Parade was held on Saturday, June 25. The march was followed by a block party and entertainment.

(Washington Blade photos by Linus Berggren)

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Theater

Queer actor on new role: ‘Playing villains is a blast’

Jaye Ayres-Brown returns as a contemptible Londoner in ‘Red Velvet’

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Jaye Ayres-Brown in ‘Red Velvet’ at Shakespeare Theatre Company. (Photo by Teresa Castracane Photography)

‘Red Velvet’
Through July 17
Shakespeare Theatre Company 
Michael R. Klein Theatre at the Lansburgh, 450 7th St., N.W.
$35-$120
Shakespearetheatre.org

After a five-year absence from the stage, actor Jaye Ayres-Brown (queer, gender fluid, non-binary, and trans-femme) returns to the boards as a contemptible cisgender Londoner in playwright Lolita Chakrabarti’s “Red Velvet” at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Klein Theatre.

Possessed of presence and genuine warmth, Ayres-Brown, 27, is playing Charles Kean, the smug and dubiously talented son of legendary English actor Edmund Kean. Charles is also the essential antagonist in Chakrabarti’s exploration of the life and career of renowned early 19th century African-American Shakespearean actor, Ira Aldridge (Amari Cheatom).  

When Aldridge is tapped to play Othello on the London stage, Charles, who’s slated to act opposite the star as evil Iago, quits the show. It’s 1833 and Charles is deeply opposed to a Black actor playing a Black lead character, and he’s even less pleased that his real-life fiancée Ellen Tree (Emily DeForest) is assaying Othello’s romantic obsession Desdemona in the production.  

Offstage, Ayres-Brown is Aldridge’s biggest fan: “He was way ahead of his time. A hundred years before Stanislavsky, Aldridge was introducing a proto naturalist approach to acting. In retrospect, it’s hard to disentangle the public’s reaction to him. He was something so different. But were white audiences reacting to his innovative acting style or were they showing their racial bias?” 

“In the play, I’m that bias,” says the New York-based actor. 

WASHINGTON BLADE: Joan Crawford famously said, “I love playing bitches. There’s a lot of bitch in every woman — a lot in every man.” 

JAYE AYRES-BROWN: Oh yeah, playing villains is a blast. Ira Aldridge was such a spectacularly heroic person, an amazingly gifted and resourceful artist, he deserves a good villain to push against, a meaningful villain who makes us admire the hero even more. And Amari [Cheatom], the actor who plays Aldridge, is a great artist who deserves a strong antagonist too. 

BLADE: Are you enjoying your stay in London 1833? 

AYRES-BROWN: No, I hate it!  But my character loves it. Charles enjoys tremendous privilege – racial and professionally. He’s a cisgender white supremacist committed to the patriarchal power structure of the time. But me, Jaye as a person, is less than charmed by it.

BLADE: But aesthetically, it’s quite fine? 

AYRES-BROWN: Yes, You-Shin Chen’s sets are impeccable, and the period costumes are beautifully rendered by Rodrigo Muñoz. Sometimes, I do feel a little bit like a drag king in Charles’ attire. It’s a performance of masculinity. 

I have an expansive experience of gender in which I include masculinity and I think I have something interesting to say and a unique perspective. Language about gender nonconforming identity didn’t exist in 1833, but the people existed, getting by the best way they could. Everyone was either a man or a woman. Who knows today how any of these characters would identify? 

My objective is to cram as much humanity in the character as I can. The play is deeply considered with questions about who gets to play what roles. And I try to bring as much of myself to each role regardless of their gender.

BLADE: Charles is very far from who you are?

AYRES-BROWN: For me, the work of playing a character like this is derived largely from the racist lessons all Americans learn. The stereotypes are things that I’ve been exposed to as someone who grew up white in America. There’s the initial desire to distance and highlight contrasts, but ultimately you must mine your own experience even if it’s uncomfortable.

BLADE: How is it to be working in live theater again?

AYRES-BROWN: Like Christmas morning! It’s my first play in five years, and still my training kicks in. I re-balance on my bike and it’s like I’ve never stopped riding. But mostly, I’m trying to have as much fun as I can. 

BLADE: And how was working with young director Jade King Carroll? 

AYRES-BROWN: Wonderful! The play deals with some difficult moments, harmful language and ideas.  Jade created a space in our rehearsal room where people could be playful while engaging with that. Dealing with concepts of history requires the seriousness it demands, but there’s also a need for humor and lightness, and Jade made that possible.

BLADE:  Any thoughts on “Red Velvet” being stuck in time? 

AYRES-BORWN: No, I think this play is a shockingly contemporary telling of a lost history that feels overwhelmingly resonant as it’s related to identity politics and the push for representation. I hope the audience sees a period but appreciates the present-day dynamics, discussions, and language. It’s also surprisingly human and very entertaining. To me it’s a very funny show. Anyone interested in laughing at posh British folks being stupid might agree.

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Sports

Olympic champion Tom Daley ‘furious’ about bans on trans athletes

“Anyone that’s told that they can’t compete or can’t do something they love just because of who they are, it’s not ok”

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Tom Daley (Screenshot via Channel 4 UK)

Olympic diving champion Tom Daley said he is “furious” about FINA, the world swimming body, banning some transgender athletes from women’s swimming, diving, and other competitions. 

“Anyone that’s told that they can’t compete or can’t do something they love just because of who they are, it’s not OK,” Daley said to iNews at a press conference. “It’s something I feel really strongly about. Giving trans people the chance to share their side.”

Earlier this month, FINA released the new policy on eligibility, banning athletes who have experienced male puberty from women’s competitions.

FINA President Husain Al-Musallam said the new policy intended to protect athletes’ right to compete but also ensure competition fairness.

FINA intends to create an open category for athletes whose birth sex is different from their gender identity.

“This has not been done before, so FINA will need to lead the way. I want all athletes to feel included in being able to develop ideas during this process.” Al-Musallam said.

The new policy was condemned by the Human Rights Campaign, which said that requiring athletes to transition before age 12 was unrealistic and unlikely. States such as Alabama regulate young people’s access to age-appropriate gender-affirming care.

“This sudden and discriminatory decision is a blatant attack on transgender athletes who have worked to comply with longstanding policies that have allowed them to participate for years without issue,” said Joni Madison, HRC’s Interim President, “This policy is an example of swimming organizations caving to the avalanche of ill-informed, prejudiced attacks targeted at one particular transgender swimmer.”

The new policy will impact the career of trans swimmer Lia Thomas, the first trans woman to win a NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming Championship, and may prevent her from participating and competing in the female category.

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