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LGBT sports leagues thriving in N.C. after HB2

Businesses offer support as protest against discriminatory law

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Stonewall Sports, gay news, Washington Blade

The four Stonewall commissioners from North Carolina, from left, Jonathan Melton, Jason Boone, Frank Wolfgram and Will Fisher converge on D.C. for the Stonewall Sports Festival last month. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Last August, the Washington Blade reported on the successful launch of Stonewall Sports franchises in two small cities in North Carolina. Their success, despite having small populations, was a result of good leadership and community support.

Earlier this year, North Carolina passed a law known as HB2 that strikes down local LGBT anti-discrimination laws. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory has repeatedly defended the law, which is being challenged in court.

The effects are wide-ranging and include banning transgender people from accessing restrooms and other facilities consistent with their gender identity and blocking local governments from protecting LGBT people against discrimination in a variety of areas.

The economic fallout has included musicians cancelling concerts and the NBA pulling its All-Star game from the state. The economic impact of all of this has been estimated at well over $100 million, according to experts.

The Blade revisited the cities of Wilmington and Greensboro along with two larger cities, Raleigh and Charlotte, to discover the impact of what is referred to by all of the teams as ‘Hate Bill 2.’

Stonewall Raleigh launched in 2013 and has exploded into a multi-sport giant with 1,000 athletes. It is offering leagues in kickball, dodgeball, volleyball, bowling and flag football along with a running club.

“All you really feel here is the backlash against the bill,” says Raleigh Commissioner Jonathan Melton. “People actually became kinder and it spurred more support for the LGBT community.”

Melton, who plays in five of the leagues, says that when you walk down the street in Raleigh, you see signs in almost every window opposing the bill. A favorite among the players is one that says ‘Everyone welcome except Pat McCrory.’

The Raleigh leagues are supported mainly by straight bars and restaurants and their support has increased and included fundraisers and vigils for the Orlando shooting victims.

“We live in a more progressive bubble here in Raleigh,” Melton says. “Several of the bars here changed to gender-neutral bathrooms after HB2.”

Stonewall Charlotte began in 2014 and is now offering kickball, dodgeball, bowling and volleyball to close to 800 athletes. There has been an elected official such as the mayor or city council members at every event where they have had a presence.

“This is a divided state because we are in the heart of the Bible Belt,” says Charlotte Commissioner Jason Boone. “Some people are going to stick to their religion and not ride the social wave. HB2 has been a constant weight hanging over North Carolina.”

Most of the sponsors in Charlotte are LGBT themed and there has been an uptick from organizations looking to partner with Stonewall on community events.

They have recently been involved in a tampon drive for women’s shelters and have created Stonewall meet-ups for things such as yoga, fitness boot camps, self-defense and flower arranging.

“We want to use our structure and framework to create events that give back to our community,” Boone says. “Sometimes it is as simple as just making a connection.”

When Stonewall Greensboro kicked off in 2014 it struggled with recruiting new players and the teams were small. What they didn’t struggle with was sponsorship and support from the local community.

“Not too much has changed after HB2,” says Greensboro commissioner, Will Fisher. “We have been able to hold a few anti-HB2 fundraising events with proceeds going to local LGBT organizations.”

Now at 148 players in their kickball league, Stonewall Greensboro has been interested in adding volleyball but is still vying for space in the area and facing high costs.

“We had some really nice silent auction things happen recently as local businesses stepped up their support,” Fisher says. “I really wanted them to flex their guns for us and am so happy that they came through.”

The smallest North Carolina city to host a Stonewall league, Stonewall Wilmington, is receiving donations from businesses just to spite HB2. Ironically, the biggest challenge that has faced them this year has been finding someone who has a key to the bathrooms on the city fields.

Created in 2015, Wilmington has 260 players in kickball and volleyball though the numbers fluctuate due to the tourist nature of the town.

“When I reach out to businesses for sponsorship they tend to cite HB2 as a reason for their donation or why they want to help the community,” says Wilmington Commissioner Frank Wolfgram.

Receiving more monetary sponsorships in the face of HB2 is one thing, but one organization actually changed its policy in a show of support.

“The volleyball facility that is hosting our league, Capt’n Bill’s has waived their standard requirement that all teams be co-ed,” Wolfgram says. “They didn’t want to discriminate against the LGBT community.”

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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”

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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

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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

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(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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