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Transgender Iraq vet competes in new arena

Ortega moves from the battlefield to pro bodybuilding



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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Pro rugby player comes out

Devin Ibañez played with New England Free Jacks pre-pandemic



Devin Ibanez, gay news, Washington Blade

Major League Rugby player Devin Ibañez came out as a gay man on his social media platforms on Tuesday. Sharing pictures of embracing and kissing his partner Fergus Wade, the former New England Free Jacks athlete stated, “as of now I am the only openly gay rugby player to earn a contract with an MLR side. I hope that I will meet others like myself playing a high level of rugby and hoping to inspire the next generation of proud LGBTQ rugby players. So I will proudly call myself ‘that gay rugger’ in hopes that one day it won’t sound strange in men’s rugby”

Ibañez shares on his new Instagram account @thatgayrugger, “as 2020 comes to a close I took the time to reflect on my life and what aspects I could control and make positive changes to that would impact my day to day life and happiness.”

He continues, “I want to start 2021 by celebrating the love of my life and my partner @ferguswade who has been with me through the highs and the (very) lows of the last three years.”

Fergus Wade and Devin Ibanez (Photo via Instagram @thatgayrugger)
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homepage news

Gay Games announces 2022 ‘contingency planning committee’

LGBTQ sports event expected to take place despite turmoil in Hong Kong



Gay Games, gay news, Washington Blade

Officials with Gay Games Hong Kong 2022, the committee organizing the quadrennial international LGBTQ sports event scheduled to take place in Hong Kong in November 2022, announced at an online webinar on Aug. 27 that a “contingency planning committee” has been created to address potential “risks” associated with the event.

Although those risks include the potential impact of the coronavirus pandemic and ongoing “social unrest” in Hong Kong, organizers stated during the webinar that the Hong Kong government remains highly supportive of the Gay Games. They said a team of more than 100 volunteers is working diligently to safely accommodate the thousands of LGBTQ athletes and spectators expected to arrive in Hong Kong in November 2022.

The webinar took place less than two months after China enacted a highly controversial security law giving the Hong Kong government greater authority in cracking down on pro-democracy protesters who have been holding demonstrations, some of which have become violent, for more than a year.

The Federation of Gay Games, the international governing body that oversees the Gay Games, reaffirmed its decision to select Hong Kong as host for the 2022 Gay Games during its Annual General Assembly meeting in Guadalajara, Mexico last November. One year earlier, the FGG selected Hong Kong over D.C. and Guadalajara, who were the two finalist cities competing with Hong Kong, to become the host city for the games.

FGG officials have predicted at least 12,000 athletes will participate in 36 sports in the 2022 Gay Games, with at least 75,000 spectators expected to turn out in Hong Kong to watch the games and participate in at least 20 accompanying arts and cultural events.

“As mentioned in the webinar, Gay Games Hong Kong 2022 has set up a contingency planning committee and has drawn up a contingency plan to cover specific risks, like the pandemic and social unrest,” said Federation of Gay Games spokesperson Shiv Paul in response to an inquiry from the Washington Blade.

“FGG with GGHK are closely monitoring the health, political, sporting, travel, and international events that could impact the delivery of Gay Games 11 in Hong Kong in November 2022,” Paul said. “Contingency plans are in development to mitigate the potential impact any unfortunate circumstances might cause,” he said.

“The team on the ground in Hong Kong are doing an excellent job in keeping the board up to date with concerns surrounding Hong Kong,” Paul quoted Joanie Evans, co-president of the FGG, as saying.

Paul added, “The GGHK team is composed of a team of 100 passionate LGBTQ+ volunteers and are looking forward to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Gay Games, first in Asia. They happily make Hong King their home, feeling safe in the ability to lead out, productive lives. The organization cannot speculate on sensationalized unconfirmed preconceptions.”

He was referring to a question from the Blade asking whether China might force local Hong Kong officials to arrest Gay Games spectators from Europe, North America or elsewhere if they make statements critical of China during the Gay Games cultural events.

Under the sweeping national security law enacted by China earlier this year, Hong Kong officials have made numerous arrests of dissidents denouncing China for infringing on what dissidents say was China’s 1997 agreement with the United Kingdom to allow Hong Kong to remain a semiautonomous region of China for 50 years after the British handed over its former colony to China.

Paul said the Hong Kong government has been involved in the Gay Games Hong Kong organizers’ application process for holding the Games in Hong Kong beginning in 2016.

“GGHK has been having ongoing and regular communications with multiple departments of the Hong Kong government to ensure that they are kept abreast of the process and support required from the government,” Paul told the Blade.

“In all the interactions GGHK is having with the Hong Kong government, support continues to grow within the Hong Kong government regarding GGHK,” he said. “New allies are offering support as it will be one of the biggest events to take place in Hong Kong during the next few years and stands to positively impact on the city,” said Paul.

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Arts & Entertainment

Irish national track champion comes out as gay



Another international pro athlete has come out as gay, in a podcast interview dropped by Outsports on Monday.

Denis Finnegan, a 10-time national track-and-field title winner in Ireland, made his revelation on the Five Rings To Rule Them All podcast, telling interviewer Cyd Zeigler that he has been “drifting” toward coming out in recent years even though being gay is only a small part of who he is “as a person, and an even smaller part as an athlete,” in order to help other LGBTQ people in sports feel less alone.

“For younger people it will hopefully give them more confidence in what they’re doing,” the 33-year-old Finnegan said. “There are still people who are scared or unsure of what’s happening, so I hope just telling my story might help one person notice there’s more acceptance out there.”

The athlete, who won his 10 championships in triple jump, said that he eventually gravitated toward track and field – as opposed to team sports like basketball and Gaelic football, which he played in his younger years – because he found the atmosphere more welcoming.

“Athletics was always a place that, because it was quite mixed, it was a place I could have gotten away from everything,” he told the podcast.

“I think those sports, because they were a team sport with males, there were times when it wasn’t comfortable,” he elaborated. “Athletics was always my favorite sport, it was always the sport that was the one that was the most open. I’d be training with girls, I’d be training with guys, and I think that did help a bit. I was never worried about any kind of comments on the track. But when I was going for, say, football, it was more of an issue.”

He also said that after growing up with sports as a major part of his identity, it was important for him to find a way to continue participating after his university years.

“I loved sport and my whole family was sporty. I’d want to be doing the sports, but there was a part of them I wasn’t enjoying at all,” he said, echoing a sentiment shared by many LGBTQ athletes who feel pressured to remain closeted due to the hyper-masculine environment and hetero-normative expectations typically found in male-dominated team sports.

In the interview, Finnegan also opens up about the strains of being publicly “closeted” while maintaining a personal life, as well as additional issues he faced in both the public and private sphere.

As a final thought, he shared a quote from a speech by Theodore Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

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