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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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Blinken criticizes FIFA threat to fine World Cup team captains with ‘one love’ armbands

Qatar criminalizes homosexuality by death

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday criticized FIFA over its threat to sanction European soccer teams if their captains wore “one love” armbands during the 2022 World Cup.

“It’s always concerning from my perspective when we see any restrictions on freedom of expression. It’s especially so when the expression is for diversity and for inclusion,” Blinken told reporters during a press conference with Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani in Doha, the Qatari capital. “And in my judgment, at least, no one on a football pitch should be forced to choose between supporting these values and playing for their team.”

Seven European soccer teams on Monday announced their captains will not wear LGBTQ and intersex armbands during the 2022 World Cup after FIFA threatened to sanction them.

The captains of Belgium, Denmark, England, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Wales had planned to wear the armbands in support of the LGBTQ and intersex community during the World Cup. The teams on Monday in a joint statement said they would not wear the armbands because FIFA had threatened to sanction them if their captains did.

The World Cup began in Qatar on Sunday.

Qatar is among the handful of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain punishable by death. A report that Human Rights Watch published last month noted several cases of “severe and repeated beatings” and “sexual harassment” of LGBTQ and intersex people while in police custody from 2019 and September 2022. 

A State Department official last week acknowledged to the Washington Blade that the U.S. raised LGBTQ and intersex rights with the Qatari government ahead of the World Cup.

The U.S. men’s soccer team while in Qatar will have a redesigned logo with the Pride flag in its badge. Blinken attended their match against Wales on Monday.

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European soccer teams won’t wear ‘one love’ armbands after FIFA threatens sanctions

World Cup began in Qatar on Sunday

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Iran plays England during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar on Nov. 21, 2022. (Screenshot via FS1)

Seven European soccer teams on Monday announced their captains will not wear LGBTQ and intersex armbands during the 2022 World Cup after FIFA threatened to sanction them.

The captains of Belgium, Denmark, England, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Wales planned to wear “one love” armbands during the World Cup. The teams in a joint statement said FIFA threatened to sanction them if their captains wore them.

“We were prepared to pay fines that would normally apply to breaches of kit regulations and had a strong commitment to wearing the armband. However, we cannot put our players in the situation where they might be booked or even forced to leave the field of play,” read the statement. “We are very frustrated by the FIFA decision, which we believe is unprecedented.”

“As national federations, we can’t put our players in a position where they could face sporting sanctions including bookings,” added the statement.

The World Cup began in Qatar on Sunday.

Qatar is among the handful of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain punishable by death.

Human Rights Watch last month published a report that noted “arbitrary” arrests of LGBTQ and intersex people between 2019 and September 2022 and several cases of “severe and repeated beatings” and “sexual harassment in police custody” during the aforementioned period. World Cup Ambassador Khalid Salman earlier this month described homosexuality as “damage in the mind” during an interview with a German television station.

Peter Tatchell, a British activist, on Oct. 25 protested the country’s LGBTQ and intersex rights record while standing outside the National Museum of Qatar in Doha, the country’s capital. A State Department official on Nov. 18 acknowledged to the Washington Blade that the U.S. raised LGBTQ and intersex rights with the Qatari government ahead of the World Cup.

The U.S. men’s soccer team while in Qatar will have a redesigned logo with the Pride flag in its badge. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will attend their match against Wales on Monday.

England played Iran on Monday. The Netherlands on Monday will play Senegal.

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Reliving a magical softball world series in D.C.

Jackson, Mace worked for years and through a pandemic to bring event to the city

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The Amateur Sports Alliance of North America brought its Softball World Series to D.C. in August. (Photo courtesy ASANA)

After almost two years of disruptions, the LGBTQ sports community in the District of Columbia is thriving once again.

Tournaments that were canceled have been rescheduled, leagues are back in action, and sports permitting within the District is working its way back to normal.

The Washington Blade checked in with two Chesapeake and Potomac Softball (CAPS) players who worked for several years to bring the Amateur Sports Alliance of North America (ASANA) Softball World Series to D.C.

The ASANA Softball World Series 2022 was held in D.C. in August and brought in more than 1,500 athletes, coaches and fans who celebrated sports and community over seven days.

Cis women, trans women, trans men and nonbinary athletes were eligible to play in the series, and cis men were welcome to coach or manage teams.

Rhonda Jackson and Tony Mace were co-hosts of the Host City Committee who brought the series to our nation’s capital.

Blade: Tell me about the journey to bring the ASANA World Series to D.C.

Tony Mace: We submitted our bid in 2019 to host the 2021 World Series, which was then rescheduled due to the pandemic. The 2020 Series was cancelled and eventually we received the 2022 award to host.

Blade: Was there a theme behind your bid?

Rhonda Jackson: Yes, our goal was to elevate the player experience both on and off the field. Every player was treated as if they were the best softball player on the planet. We wanted the players and the city to be the center of attention. We attended a Mystics game and a Nationals game, which were both great to experience as a community. 

Mace: We were excited for the opportunity to show off D.C. and we are really proud of what we are doing here as an LGBTQ softball community. We wanted to share it.

Blade: Let’s talk softball. How was the Series?

Mace: ASANA has 28 member cities, and we had a total of 47 teams from 21 cities competing in the B through E Divisions. The games were held at Watkins Regional Park and Fairland Regional Park.

Jackson: Everyone was treated as an elite athlete, and it didn’t feel like a local or regional tournament. The D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation did an awesome job of getting the fields in shape for the Series. They were a big part of the player experience. When we arrived on the first day it was a spiritual moment. Everything was perfect and there were a lot of smiling faces. I hope we created memories that last a lifetime.

Blade: How many local teams competed?

Jackson: D.C. fielded five teams – DC Sharks won their division, DC Swag finished third in their division and Spartas finished fourth in their division.

Blade: And I understand congratulations are in order for you, RJ?

Jackson: During the Series, I was inducted into the ASANA Hall of Fame. My competitive teams, my local teams and the CAPS Board were all there. I could feel the love.

Mace: The Hall of Fame dinner was magical. Actually, every day of that week was incredible. It is truly amazing to have players from across the country come and play at your home ballpark. I made a ton of new friends and Friday night under the lights was a really special moment.

Jackson: The whole week was about special moments, connecting with new and old friends, giving folks an opportunity to thrive, and creating a safe, inclusive space to compete.

Blade: And congrats to you, too, Tony for being inducted into the CAPS Hall of Fame this year.Right after the ASANA World Series ended, you headed to Dallas to compete in NAGAAA Softball World Series with other CAPS travel teams. How was the tournament?

Mace: We had two teams from D.C. make it to the Division championships – DC Big Blue won the Masters D Division and DC Scruff finished second in the D Division. It is always great when your sister teams play well and seeing everyone pull together from the D.C. community to celebrate the DC Big Blue victory was heartwarming.

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