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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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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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Sports

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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Arts & Entertainment

Lia Thomas nominated for the 2022 NCAA Woman of the Year award

The former University of Pennsylvania swimmer has been the center of national debate about transgender athletes in sports.

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Lia Thomas, the first transgender woman who has earned a national title in Division 1 athletics, was nominated by the University of Pennsylvania for the 2022 NCAA Woman of the Year award. The former University of Pennsylvania swimmer has been the center of national debate about transgender athletes in sports.

The NCAA Woman of the Year Award was established to honor senior female student-athletes who demonstrate excelling performances in academics, athletics and community services at college.

In March, Thomas, joined the women’s swimming team after competing against men for three years, became the first transgender woman to have a national title in Division 1. She finished the 500-yard freestyle event in the fastest time recorded in the NCAA season. 

However, such attention-drawing performances also brought Thomas to the heated debate over whether transgender women should compete with cisgender women.

In February, sixteen of Thomas’ teammates wrote an unsigned letter to Penn and Ivy League officials, and pointed out that Thomas held biologically “unfair advantages.” 

In March, conservative Christian organization Concerned Women for American (CWA) filed a lawsuit against University of Pennsylvania, stating by allowing Thomas to compete UPenn failed to protect the rights of other college female athletes.

“The future of women’s sports is at risk and the equal rights of female athletes are being infringed,” said Penny Nance, CEO and President of Concerned Women for America, in a CWA statement.  

“Any school that defies federal civil rights law by denying women equal opportunities in athletic programs, forcing women to compete against athletes who are biologically male must be held accountable.”

Last month, the International Swimming Federation (FINA) approved the new policy to bar transgender athletes from competitions consistent with their gender identity, unless they can prove that “they have not experienced any part of male puberty beyond Tanner Stage 2 or before age 12, whichever is later.”

Similarly, USA Swimming, the national governing body for competitive swimming, adopted a more restrictive policy requiring transgender women to prove that the concentration of testosterone in their blood was less than 5 nanomoles per liter for 36 consecutive months or more. 

The NCAA is currently reviewing the new policy but hasn’t adopted it yet.

In total 18 states have enacted laws banning transgender athletes from sports consistent with their gender identity, and around 30% transgender athletes are accordingly affected.

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