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Swimming for D.C., living elsewhere

Meet 3 DC Aquatics athletes who reside far from here

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US swimming, gay news, Washington Blade

Matt Kinney, Craig Franz and Jay Calhoun swim for DC Aquatics but live far away from here. (Calhoun photo by Kevin Majoros; Kinney, Franz photos courtesy the subjects)

At the beginning of this year, Michael Phelps left his home in Baltimore and began training in the Phoenix area. The move was a result of his coach, Bob Bowman, moving there to take on the head coaching position at Arizona State University. Phelps had done the same thing in the years leading up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics when Bowman was coaching at the University of Michigan.

US Swimming has a mandate that swimmers must compete under the banner of a registered club or swim unattached. All throughout the lead up to the 2016 Rio Olympics, Phelps continued to swim in competitions representing his home club of North Baltimore Aquatic Club even though he was training in Phoenix.

The same is true in US Masters Swimming that a swimmer can train anywhere in the world and yet represent the club of their choice. It is also the case in other master’s sports such as soccer, basketball and water polo. When the local LGBT sports teams from D.C. travel to tournaments across the globe they are often joined by athletes who don’t train with them though they compete with them as teammates.

Swimming is one of those sports that are both individual and team based. A swimmer is allowed to compete unattached from a team but that would preclude them from being able to participate in relays or earn points in team competitions.

Meet three gay swimmers who live and train in different parts of the world and represent the LGBT-based District of Columbia Aquatics Club in national and international competitions. All three have won gold medals at the Gay Games and the IGLA World Championships with their D.C. teammates.

For Matt Kinney, the bond with DC Aquatics is unbreakable and when other teams have tried to recruit him in the past, he has politely declined. His connection to the team began after he moved to the area in 1995 to accept a swim coach position at University of Mary Washington.

“I didn’t know much about masters swimming at that point,” says Kinney. “I had been training all along so I figured I might as well compete.”

Growing up in Canton, Ohio, Kinney was a wrestler until an injury forced him out of the sport. He began swimming in his sophomore year of high school. He swam in college at Case Western Reserve University and continued in collegiate swimming after he transferred to Kenyon College. He received his graduate degree in sports management from Western Illinois University before accepting the coaching position at Mary Washington.

“I was a young gay man when I arrived in the D.C. area and it was a very influential time for me,” Kinney says. “DC Aquatics is my family and those relationships will last a lifetime. It was a wonderful experience and nice to have that commonality.”

In 2007, Kinney accepted the head coaching position of the men’s and women’s swim teams at Carnegie Mellon University. Instead of joining a Pittsburgh team or swimming unattached, he continues to represent DC Aquatics in competitions.

“My allegiance to the team is strong and I can’t get my head around competing for anyone else,” says Kinney. It’s like being an age grouper again where you are perpetually on the same relays with the same teammates.”

Craig Franz grew up in Baltimore and though he stayed athletically active, he was never part of a team. He received degrees from Bucknell University, La Salle University and Drexel University along with his doctorate from the University of Rhode Island. He was swimming laps at a pool in Peace Dale, R.I., in 2007 when a coach noticed his abilities and recruited him to the master’s team.

He began competing in the pool with the team and also found himself drawn to the teammates who were training for open water swimming. He moved to D.C. the following year and joined DC Aquatics.

“DC Aquatics is a group of talented, bright, enthusiastic and athletically inclined individuals who come together to better themselves,'” says Franz. “It’s a very supportive and positive atmosphere.”

Franz moved to Rome, Italy, in 2011 where he works in fundraising and development of schools and health clinics in forgotten areas of the world. He also chose to remain tied to DC Aquatics and has traveled the world with them including stops in Cologne, Seattle, Cleveland and Stockholm. Just last week he joined his teammates in Edmonton for the IGLA World Championships. He has also become an avid open water competitor.

“I try to fill every weekend in Italy with open water swims or races,” Franz says. “I am a marine biologist by trade and I love being out in open water swimming long distances. I embrace pushing myself physically, mentally and spiritually.”

Franz has taken several months off over the past few years and has traveled around the world training and competing in 25 different cities. The open water trek included swims in multiple major bodies of water including the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans, the Adriatic Sea and the Caribbean. Franz has the best of both worlds when he segues from the solitary nature of open water swimming to the atmosphere of being on a team.

“I really enjoy the time we spend at swim meets and the fascinating conversations with my teammates who come from all types of workplaces,” says Franz. “Our connection through sports allows us to speak the same language and share the same history.”

Jay Calhoun had always felt like he was missing out by not being part of a team. He was training with the straight-based Southern California Aquatics but was competing at LGBT swim meets as an unattached competitor. The SoCal training group is 800 strong but most of the swimmers do not compete. Over the years he has periodically reached out to California LGBT teams only to run into attitudes and drama.

“I finally gave up on finding a good team match here and reached out to DC Aquatics because I had a friend on the team,” says Calhoun. “My first meet with them was the 2014 Gay Games in Cleveland and I have never swum with a group of people who couldn’t care less about personalities and problems. After two meets with them, I can say that I have never been this engaged with teammates.”

Calhoun began swimming competitively at age eight and his father’s job moved the family from Colorado to Maryland to California. He competed with the University of Colorado at Boulder while earning his degree in economics and environmental design. He is now living in Los Angeles and working as a florist.

At that first meet in Cleveland, Calhoun won over his DC Aquatics teammates with his quick wit and engaging banter between races. His first chance to cement his status as a teammate came when he anchored the 800 freestyle relay in a come-from-behind swim that won the Gay Games gold medal for him and his fellow teammates.

For many swimmers, the thrill of having a relay victory is something that can’t be matched by a good individual swim. Calhoun made the most of finally getting that opportunity. That relay included Matt Kinney and their time ranked them third in the United States in their age group.

“It was an awesome experience,” says Calhoun. “I swam my little heart out.”

Just like fellow DC Aquatics swimmer Craig Franz, Calhoun has also found success in open water swimming and he competes in races along the California coast. Calhoun made the trek to Stockholm last year for the EuroGames with his new teammates and will join them again at the Sin City Shootout in Vegas and/or the upcoming World Out Games in Miami next year.

“Swimming puts balance in my life and helps me control my angst,” Calhoun says. “I am really enjoying being a part of this convivial and cohesive adult team.”

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Sports

Gay Games 11 begin in Hong Kong and Mexico

Registrations are reportedly far below expectations

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(Photo courtesy of Gay Games 11 Hong Kong organizing committee.)

Organizers call it the world’s largest inclusive sports, arts and culture event: The 11th Gay Games, delayed by a year and cohosted by the cities of Hong Kong and Guadalajara, Mexico. They got underway Friday, and for the first time in the 40-year history of the games, they are being held in a city in Latin America and another city in Asia. 

More than 2,300 athletes from 45 countries, including the U.S, Britain, South Korea and China are expected to take part in the Hong Kong games, according to organizers. Soccer is the main event this weekend. 

Dodgeball, soccer, swimming, powerlifting and track-and-field are among the events this weekend in Guadalajara, according to that event’s website.

But according to reports, the number of athletes and spectators at both venues is far below the standards set in previous Gay Games.  

These games were originally planned for just one city, Hong Kong, this time last year. The intent was for Gay Games 11 to serve as what organizers called “a beacon of hope” for the LGBTQ community in a Chinese-ruled region that challenges restrictions on gay rights. 

While it is legal to be gay in China and many of its major cities have thriving LGBTQ social scenes, same-sex marriage and adoption by gay people are illegal and there are no legal protections against LGBTQ discrimination.

To many Chinese government officials, being gay is “a malign foreign influence that is stopping youth from getting married and having children,” Darius Longarino, a senior fellow at the Paul Tsai China Center at Yale Law School, recently told NBC News

That and the summer shutdown of the Beijing LGBT center by the government in May, affirmed the decision to divide Gay Games 11 across two continents, which was at first driven by Hong Kong’s strict COVID-19 protocols, as Reuters reported. Organizers postponed the games for 12 months due to the city’s strict COVID-19 protocols, and it was decided to divide the competitions with runner-up bidder Guadalajara in western Mexico.

Despite the locales being more than eight thousand miles apart, organizers have coordinated a series of sporting events under the slogan, “unity in diversity.” 

“Everyone aged 18/+ is welcome to participate,” according to the Hong Kong venue’s website, “regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity or even training level.” 

Inclusion isn’t as much of a problem at this Gay Games as is the lack of participants and spectators.

Original estimates for the 2022 event in Hong Kong was for 12,000 participants, 75,000 spectators and 3,000 volunteers from 100 countries. The 36 events were to include Dragon Boat Racing, Dodgeball and eSports.

But for 2023, Reuters reports registrations fell far below expectations, due in part to ongoing worries about COVID-19 and LGBTQ rights in China and concerns over safety in Guadalajara, where crime and kidnappings are common. 

One week ago, organizers in Guadalajara had registered only 2,458 participants, and Hong Kong had under 2,400, for a combined 4,839 athletes. It’s unheard of for a Gay Games to have fewer than 8,000 participants.

The games were first held in San Francisco in 1982. Organizers boast this is “one of the largest global events of their kind,” according to the Gay Games 11 website, bringing people together” to experience unforgettable moments of joy through a unique combination of sport, community and culture.” 

But according to Reuters, what is bringing people together in Guadalajara are the criminals who prey upon visitors. The city is located in the state of Jalisco, where drug cartels operate freely. 

Wayne Morgan, a senior Australian athlete who has competed in six prior Gay Games, told Reuters he was drugged and robbed last year when he visited Guadalajara for a planning conference related to this year’s games. He said he made his way to the police station and found himself in a long queue of other crime victims, where he was told: “This happens a lot.” 

A spokesperson for the Federation of Gay Games told Reuters the decision to split the event had a “significant impact on registration numbers” but added that the organizers believed the choice of two locations “allows even more people from around the world to celebrate LGBTQ+ sports with us.”

But to Morgan, splitting the host cities was “a mistake” and that low numbers could deter corporate sponsorship in the future.

“In my heart of hearts, I wish the whole thing was canceled and we could skip to Valencia in 2026,” he said. The next games are planned for Valencia, Spain.

Taiwan’s competitors withdrew their registration from the Hong Kong event in August, citing fears their participants could be arrested if they display the island’s flag or use its name. Human rights activists called for the games in Hong Kong to be canceled, accusing organizers of aligning themselves with “pro-authoritarian figures responsible for widespread persecution against the people of Hong Kong.”

In response to the low registration numbers, Hong Kong organizers canceled several events, including field hockey and Rugby 7s as well as some in the category of track-and-field. 

Gay Games 11 runs through Nov. 11.

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Republican governors demand ‘guaranteed’ fairness on trans athletes

Kristi Noem’s joint letter filled with lies, inaccuracies and transphobic claims

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Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, anti-trans pundit Riley Gaines and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem meet at the 2023 Republican Governors Association gathering in Aspen, Colo.. (Photo courtesy of Republican Governors Association's Facebook page)

Nine Republican governors, several of whom have signed laws banning transgender student-athletes from competing as their authentic selves, sent a joint letter Monday to the National Collegiate Athletics Association and its Board of Governors about its transgender student-athlete policy.

The first signatory is Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota. She and her fellow GOP governors make it clear they are telling the NCAA to abandon its current policy, which changed in 2022 from allowing trans competitors to compete, to putting the onus on individual sports organizations to decide participation rules. 

Not good enough, say the governors. 

“The NCAA has the chance to guarantee an environment where female college athletes can thrive without the concern of inequities,” the wrote. “We trust that you also want to guarantee just such an environment. But this policy allows the NCAA to avoid responsibility for ensuring the fairness of collegiate sports — therefore it must be changed.”

In addition to Noem, the letter was signed by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders of Arkansas, Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi, Gov. Mike Parson of Missouri, Gov. Greg Gianforte of Montana, Gov. Joe Lomardo of Nevada, Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas and Gov. Mark Gordon of Wyoming. 

Among the many bogus claims and transphobic statements, including labeling out trans NCAA All-American Lia Thomas a “biological male,” the letter misrepresents what happened after Thomas tied with a cisgender competitor, Riley Gaines, at the NCAA Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships in Atlanta. In March 2022. The two women tied for fifth place in the 200 freestyle. But the governors’ letter claims Gaines was denied posing with “the first-place trophy that she rightfully earned.” 

Unlike the governors, the Los Angeles Blade was at that event and witnessed the heat, as well as the podium ceremony that followed. Not expecting a tie finish for fifth place, officials handed Gaines a trophy for another event for the photo op following their contest, and chose to give Thomas the fifth place trophy. The NCAA mailed Gaines her trophy at a later date. Gaines never finished first at that event, and has turned her alleged slight at the championships into a national anti-trans media campaign.

The letter goes on to repeat false misogynist claims about Allyson Felix being unable to compete against high school boys, accusations that trans athletes are “average male athletes stealing” the honors due women athletes and falsely claims that the issue of fairness has been determined by science. 

The letter was condemned by the American Civil Liberties Union of Wyoming in a statement Tuesday. 

“Whatever Gov. Gordon and this letter’s cosigners might say, this isn’t about leveling the playing field for student athletes or protecting fairness in women’s sports. If it were, these governors would be tackling the actual threats to women’s sports, such as severe underfunding, lack of media coverage, sexist ideologies that suggest that women and girls are weak, and pay equity for coaches and players,” said Libby Skarin, deputy executive director for the ACLU of Wyoming, in a press release.

“This letter to the NCAA is just another attempt to erase transgender people from society while stirring up support from their base of anti-trans activists with fear-mongering tactics and discriminatory rhetoric that harm some of the most vulnerable people in our state,” Skarin said.

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Ashlyn Harris files for divorce from Ali Krieger

The former U.S. Women’s National Team stars have two children and have been married since 2019, Harris, retired from soccer in 2022

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Media reports reveal the former goalkeeper of the U.S. Women’s National Team Ashlyn Harris filed for divorce last month from Ali Krieger, the NWSL Gotham FC defender who is set to retire after Sunday’s match. 

Krieger, 39, and Harris, 37, have been together since 2010 and married in December 2019. They have two children together and according to public court documents filed on Sept. 19 in Seminole County, Fla., they must agree to a parenting plan for Sloane, 2 1/2, and Ocean, 14 months. 

Representatives for Harris and Krieger have not responded to press inquiries. The couple haven’t been seen in an Instagram post together since July. 

They met while playing for the USWNT, where they were both two-time World Cup winners. 

Harris, who retired from soccer in 2022, is now the creative director of Gotham FC and part of an all-woman executive leadership team. Krieger, who has played with the club since she and Harris were traded by Orlando Pride in 2021, will be celebrated by the club for her 17 years of dedication to the sport when she retires following Sunday’s match against the Kansas City Current. 

The couple welcomed their toddler daughter Sloane via adoption just a few months before being traded. In August 2022, they adopted their second baby, their son, Ocean. The Florida court requires Krieger and Harris to agree on child custody, support, non-disparagement and non-harassment terms as well as attend a parenting class for the divorce to proceed. 

In addition to her skills on the pitch, Krieger has used her spotlight and platform to serve as an advocate for pay equity and in support of the LGBTQ+ community. 

“I want to leave the game better than where I found it,” said Krieger upon announcing her plans to retire in March. “I believe we have accomplished a lot since we’ve started. I want to be remembered as being a good person and a good teammate who worked tirelessly to create a space for everyone to feel safe and seen, for speaking up for things that should be better for the younger generation. That’s the legacy I want to leave.”

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