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Transgender Iraq vet competes in new arena

Ortega moves from the battlefield to pro bodybuilding

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Shane Ortega, gay news, Washington Blade

Sgt. Shane Ortega has served for more than 10 years in the military and is now an accomplished bodybuilder. (Photo courtesy ACLU)

When you first meet Sgt. Shane Ortega, the first things you notice are his muscles and tattoos. They are everywhere and it’s hard not to stare longer than the socially acceptable amount of time. Ortega is in D.C. for a series of briefings at the Pentagon and after multiple days of what he calls verbal ping-pong, he is ready to relax and do some sightseeing.

As he walks along the path next to the Reflecting Pool on the National Mall, each person that approaches from the opposite direction takes stock of him as they pass by. The reason they are looking isn’t because he is a trans man, they are looking at him because he has presence.

That presence has served him well during the past six years of quietly advocating for LGBT policy in the military. It began with work on the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and progressed into policy for transgender military service members. That advocacy has included meeting with civilians outside of the military chain of command such as politicians, the American Medical Association, SPARTA and the American Civil Liberties Union, among others.

“There is no road map for policy change,” Ortega says. “The timeline has accelerated since DADT and the people in power have refreshed. We are not the boogeyman anymore.”

Ortega just passed his 10-year anniversary in the armed forces and has been deployed twice to Iraq with the Marines as a woman and once to Afghanistan with the Army as a man. He is a Helicopter Flight Engineer in the Army’s 25th Infantry Division stationed at the Garrison base in Oahu, though elevated testosterone levels have relegated him to administrative work for the time being.

Throughout the course of this year, each of the military services has elevated its transgender separation policy outside of the military chain of command to third-party civilians. Just a few days after Ortega finished the last of his briefings, the Pentagon announced plans to lift the ban on transgender people serving in the U.S. military. After working in obscurity for years, Ortega is now one of the faces of the trans military movement.

The second thing you notice about Ortega when you meet him is that he is a ball of energy and he really likes to talk. As he treks toward the war memorials on the National Mall, his stories jump from music to scuba diving to his tours of duty to his uncles, all at breakneck speed. He is well spoken, engaging and funny. When he stops to admire the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, he mentions that he loves to sculpt things with clay.

The man knows a thing or two about sculpting other things as well.

Two months ago in Honolulu, he participated in his first physique competition and placed fourth, which qualified him for a spot at junior nationals in March of 2016. Sports and weightlifting had been a part of his regimen for years but it wasn’t until his body started filling out from hormone therapy that he began to think about competing.

Ortega was born in Maryland and moved around a lot growing up, living on bases with his mom or with family members while she was deployed overseas. He began wrestling in elementary school and picked the sport up again in high school along with track and field and soccer. After enlisting in the Marines he played intramural soccer and rugby on the bases.

A constant pursuit from sophomore year of high school on was weightlifting.

His high school wrestling coach started him out with the physiology of working out, which advanced to benching for form and finally lifting for bodybuilding. His heroes were the superstars of the World Wrestling Federation.

“I grew up with posters of Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage on my bedroom walls,” says Ortega. “I was into that good ‘ole American hero image.”

The weight training continued throughout his military career and escalated to a point where people were asking him if he was competing. After contacting the event organizers of National Physique Competition, Ikaika and the governing body to receive permission to enter the event, Ortega began serious training to compete in the men’s physique Class A.

Each morning started with physical training with his Army unit, the Hill Climbers, and included calisthenics and 15-25 miles of running per week. After work there were three to four sessions per week of weightlifting, two with a trainer. He says the hardest part of the preparation was starting the diet two months out from the competition and jumping to 300 grams of protein per day.

Shane Ortega (Photo by Kevin Majoros)

Shane Ortega (Photo by Kevin Majoros)

“I was really anxious the week before my competition. As the time came for me to compete, I realized how important it was for me as a trans man to compete at that level,” Ortega says. “Everyone was really nice and respectful at the event and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience for my first competition. It was a huge self-confidence boost.”

Ortega’s overall goal for the competition was to finish in the top three and qualify for nationals. He will attempt to accomplish that in his second competition at the Paradise Cup in September. “I believe that you can be anything you want to be in this country,” says Ortega. “If you want to become an elite athlete, find your opportunity and pursue it.”

As the day of sightseeing in D.C. winds down, Ortega begins to explain some of the tattoos on his body. He says they all have meaning to him. There is a woman wearing a gas mask, a grenade, nautical stars, Hindu goddesses and an Army tank.

When asked why the tank, he gets a huge grin on his face and exclaims, “Dude, there is an Army tank on my arm. How cool is that?”

Just like Sgt. Shane Ortega, that is in fact, pretty cool.

 

Shane Ortega (Photo by Kevin Majoros)

Shane Ortega (Photo by Kevin Majoros)

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Carl Nassib returns to Tampa

Former Las Vegas Raiders defensive end came out as gay in June 2021

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Carl Nassib (Screenshot courtesy of YouTube/KUVV Fox 5 in Las Vegas)

Carl Nassib, who made headlines in June 2021 when he became the NFL’s first out gay active player, reportedly has signed a one-year contract with his former team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

The 29-year-old defensive end was released by the Las Vegas Raiders in March, and became a free agent. NFL sources said that was due to his contracted salary amount — $7.75 million — and not any reflection on his sexual orientation.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter broke the news with a tweet

When Nassib came out last summer, he announced he was donating $100,000 to the Trevor Project, and for Pride Month this year he made a new pledge to help LGBTQ youth. He promised to match donations to the Trevor Project, dollar for dollar, up to $100,000.

Will Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady welcome Nassib?

As Outsports reported, he’s never made any comments about playing with someone gay. Brady’s former New England Patriots teammate Ryan O’Callaghan recalled that before he came out in 2017, following his retirement, there was one time that he missed the team bus and Brady gave him a ride in his car to that day’s practice.

O’Callaghan told Outsports he believes Brady would have “absolutely” accepted him if he had come out at that time.

“Being married to a super model I’m sure he’s met a few gay people in his life,” said O’Callaghan.

Brady wed Brazilian fashion model Gisele Bündchen in 2009.

Legendary Boston sports columnist Steve Buckley of the Athletic came out as gay in 2011 while at the Boston Herald. He told Outsports that Brady has always been friendly and cooperative, even after Buckley came out.

This is the second time around at Raymond James Stadium for Nassib. He played for the Buccaneers for two seasons prior to joining the Raiders in 2020. His NFL career began in 2016 with the Cleveland Browns. 

As Jason Owens reported for Yahoo! Sports, Nassib was far more productive in Tampa as a part-time starter, recording 6.5 sacks in 2018 and six sacks in 2019. The NFL’s website shows he played just 242 defensive snaps and earned 1.5 sacks last season. 

In 86 games including 37 starts, Nassib’s recorded 22 career sacks, 164 tackles, 53 quarterback hits and four forced fumbles.

In addition to Brady, Nassib’s new teammates are Akiem Hicks and William Gholston at defensive end and outside linebackers Shaquil Barrett and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka. Given that the Buccaneers finished seventh in the NFL in sacks last season with 47, Nassib will be expected to improve Tampa Bay’s chances when their season begins on Sept. 11 in Dallas.

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Federal judge temporarily blocks anti-trans youth sports law in Indiana

The injunction requires that A.M., a 10 -year-old trans girl, must be allowed to rejoin her school’s all-girls softball team

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On Tuesday Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana issued an preliminary injunction that blocked an Indiana law that prevents trans youth from playing on sports teams that match their gender identity.

The injunction requires that A.M., a 10 -year-old trans girl, must be allowed to rejoin her school’s all-girls softball team while litigation continues.  

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a lawsuit in April, on behalf of A.M., challenging House Enrolled Act 1041, which bans transgender girls from participating in school sports. 

Ken Falk, legal director at the ACLU of Indiana, issued the following statement: 

“When misinformation about biology and gender is used to bar transgender girls from school sports it amounts to the same form of sex discrimination that has long been prohibited under Title IX, a law that protects all students – including trans people – on the basis of sex.  

“We are pleased that Judge Magnus-Stinson has recognized this and required that A.M. be allowed to play on her school’s softball team.  

“If other students are being denied the right to join a sports team at their school due to their transgender status, we encourage them to contact the ACLU of Indiana immediately.” 

This past May, the Indiana Legislature had voted to overturn Republican Governor Eric Holcomb’s March veto of HB 1041, a measure that bans transgender girls from competing on girls’ K-12 sports teams in the state.

The vote to override the veto means that this law makes Indiana the 8th state to ban trans youth from playing sports in 2022 by legislative action — and the 16th in the country.

In his veto message sent to House Speaker Todd Huston’s office, Holcomb said the bill presumed a problem already existed that required the state to intervene and it implied the goals of consistency and fairness in girls’ sports were not being met.

“After thorough review, I find no evidence to support either claim even if I support the overall goal,” Holcomb wrote.

“Governor Holcomb was the second governor this year to uphold the dignity of transgender and nonbinary youth, and veto an attempt by lawmakers to write them out of existence. While those young people continue to face unrelenting political attacks, the Indiana legislature voted to override his act of courage and compassion, pushing these marginalized youth even further to the sidelines,” said Sam Ames, Director of Advocacy and Government Affairs at The Trevor Project.

“This bill claimed to solve a problem of ‘fairness’ in school sports in Indiana that didn’t exist, but its negative impacts on the mental health and well-being of trans and nonbinary youth — young people who already face disproportionate rates of bullying, depression, and suicide — are very real. To the young people in Indiana watching tonight: you are stronger than they know. We are here for you, we will fight for you, and we are not going anywhere.”

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DC Commanders notch Pride Bowl victory

Local teams ‘overcome some difficulties’ to score wins

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The DC Commanders won their championship game 8-0 last month. (Photo courtesy DCGFFL)

Pride Bowl XIV was contested in Chicago in late June drawing more than 800 players from across the country. The annual tournament featured 32 teams in the Open Division and 12 teams in the Women’s Division.

For the DC Gay Flag Football League (DCGFFL) travel teams, it marked their second tournament of the year having previously competed in the Florida Sunshine Cup XI in February.

The DCGFFL sent five travel teams consisting of more than 80 athletes to Chicago – three teams in the Open Division and two teams in the Women’s Division. 

Each team was guaranteed four games in bracket play with the winners moving on to the semifinals. The DC Admirals, Washington Generals, DC Commanders, and DC Senators Black all advanced to compete in the final four.

The DC Commanders would go on to win their championship game 8-0, defeating the Austin Capitals in the Open B2 Bracket. They scored early in the game and held off their opponent over two 30-minute halves in a tough defensive battle.

Three players from the DCGFFL travel teams were selected to the Pride Bowl All-Tournament Team – Drew Crane of the Washington Generals, Matan Showstack of the DC Commanders, and Derrick Johnson of the Washington Generals.

Clay Arnold has been on the DC Commanders’ travel team for six years and has captained since 2018. This year will mark the first full travel season post-COVID for the players who will also be traveling to Honolulu for Gay Bowl XXII in October.

“We have overcome some difficulties to get back to taking the majority of our players to tournaments, including securing enough money to pay for jerseys,” says Arnold. “The Commanders brought five players who had never traveled and it’s great having new talent.”

There was a special meaning for Arnold in the win, as it brought reflections of his teammate, John Boyd, who passed in 2020.

“We played on the same field where John threw his first touchdown pass as a quarterback,” Arnold says. “It was a great punctuation mark, and I was joyous for many reasons.”

Arnold points to the travel experience as a tight-knit community filled with amazing people, lifelong friends, and an elevated level of competition.

“Several years ago we didn’t compete well and ended up skipping the closing events to lick our wounds at a local dive bar in Chicago,” Arnold says. “We have returned to that same bar every year and are welcomed with open arms. Sharing that quality time with your teammates and the next generation of players is what keeps me coming back.”

Nikki Kasparek founded the DCGFFL’s first women’s travel team, DC Senators, in 2014 with Gay Bowl XIV being their first tournament.

Pride Bowl marked another first for the players as two DCGFFL women’s travel teams competed in the tournament – DC Senators Black and DC Senators Red.

“It was exciting having a second team there and it gave us a built-in cheering section,” says Kasparek. “The group of women on our second team energized all of us and everyone put in significant playing time. The Red team was captained by two veterans and the rest of the players were all rookies.”

The DCGFFL has experienced significant growth in women’s players over the past two seasons with 35 women currently playing in the leagues.

Kasparek, who has a wife and two kids at home, says she is very tied to the Senators and the DCGFFL and is excited about all of the new players.

“I am incredibly competitive and the DCGFFL leagues and travel tournaments allow me to scratch that itch,” Kasparek says. “I am going to enjoy all of it – the friendships, the seasons, the tournaments, the moments – until I can’t flex that muscle anymore.”

Along with the increase in women’s players, the DCGFFL has picked up over 100 new players in the past two seasons. Logan Dawson was recently elected as the new commissioner and also played for the Commanders at Pride Bowl.

“Traveling is a great opportunity to bond with your teammates and compete with the best players from all the cities in attendance,” says Dawson. “It is a higher level of competition than our league play and offers our players an experience that will improve their skill set.”

The DCGFFL has been using the DC Commanders name for many years and have no plans to change it because of the recent name change of the NFL’s Washington Commanders.

“We like the connection and for the first time ever, members of the DC Commanders and the DCGFFL marched side-by-side with members of the Washington Commanders’ organization in the Capital Pride parade this year,” Dawson says. “We will also have interaction with them at their Pride Night this September.”

Registration is now open for Season XXIII of the DCGFFL. Coming up for their travel teams are Beach Bowl 2022 and Gay Bowl XXII.

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