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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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Out professional soccer player calls out ‘homophobic abuse’ from crowd

The Adelaide United player said he had “no words” to describe his disappointment at being the target of anti-gay insults from the crowd

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Photo courtesy of Josh Cavallo Instagram

Professional soccer player Josh Cavallo, who became the only openly gay top-flight male professional footballer last year, told his Instagram followers over the weekend that he experienced “homophobic abuse” during his last game. 

The Adelaide United player said he had “no words” to describe his disappointment at being the target of anti-gay insults from the crowd at AAMI Park during his team’s Saturday game against the Melbourne Victory.

“As a society it shows we still face these problems in 2022,” he wrote. “This shouldn’t be acceptable and we need to do more to hold these people accountable. Hate never will win. I will never apologise for living my truth and most recently who I am outside of football.”

Cavallo added that he was also targeted after the game online. 

“To @instagram I don’t want any child or adult to have to receive the hateful and hurtful messages that I’ve received,” he said. “I knew truely being who I am that I was going to come across this. It’s a sad reality that your platforms are not doing enough to stop these messages.”

The Australian Professional Leagues (APL) said it was “shocked and saddened” to hear Cavallo’s reports of “homophobic bullying,” according to the Guardian

“Our players, staff and fans have the right to feel safe on and off the pitch,” APL CEO Danny Townsend said. “There is no place for bullying, harassment or abuse in Australian football and we have zero tolerance for this harmful behaviour.”

The APL is working with both teams to investigate the incident, adding that sanctions will be issued to anyone involved. 

In a statement, Adelaide United Chief Executive Officer Nathan Kosmina said that the team was “appalled” at the “verbal abuse” that Cavallo received. 

“Adelaide United is proud to be an inclusive and diverse football club, and to see one of our players subjected to homophobic abuse is disappointing and upsetting,” he said. “Josh continues to show immense courage and we join him in calling out abuse, which has no place in society, and it will not be tolerated by our Club.”

The Melbourne Victory added that it “sees football as a platform to unite fans no matter what background. Spectators found to have breached these standards will be banned from future matches.”

At the end of his Instagram message, Cavallo thanked those sending him positive messages, love and support. 

“Love will always win,” he said. 

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Transgender climber completes 5th of 7 highest summits

Erin Parisi is the first out trans mountain climber to reach such heights. Next up she’ll make a second attempt to conquer Mount Denali.

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Erin Parisi (Photo courtesy of Erin Parisi)

SANTIAGO, Chile – Erin Parisi just returned from the bottom of the world, but already the out transgender  woman has set her sights on her next challenge in her mission to conquer the highest summits of each of the seven continents. 

”I have been trying to train and get to the tops of the highest mountain on every continent: Seven Peaks, seven summits, seven continents,” she said. “I just finished Antarctica, which is an extraordinarily difficult climb as far as logistics, as far as dealing with the weather and the environment, a mountain that’s only been climbed 2,000 times before.”

(Photo courtesy of Erin Parisi)

It was New Year’s Day when she spoke by phone to the Los Angeles Blade, from a hotel room in Santiago, Chile, where it’s summertime. Five summits down, two more to go. 

“In order, the first five are Mount Kosciusko in Australia. Then I did Kilimanjaro a second time — I climbed it once manifesting as a dude, and I decided that I wanted to do them all post-transition,” said Parisi. “Next, I did Mount Elbrus in Russia and then I did Aconcagua in South America, not too far from where I’m sitting right now.”

Parisi, 45, reflected on both her climb 16,050 feet to the summit of Vinson Massif in Antarctica, and her plans to return later this year to the tallest spot in North America: Mount Denali, 20,310 feet above sea level. Not the highest of the seven summits but considered by many experienced climbers to be the hardest. 

“Last year, we got flattened by wind,” said Parisi, who was disappointed that neither she nor anyone on her team were able to reach the summit due to those conditions and injuries. “I want to go back and have a little chat with Denali.” 

It certainly was challenging for Parisi, who hurt her hand so badly in last summer’s attempt, during Pride Month, that she requires surgery. She posted on Instagram back then, that she thought she had dislocated a finger in a rush to set up camp as they ascended to 14K feet, and it set off doubts that made her question continuing. Alone for two days, stranded for a total of six days in subzero temperatures by a vicious wind storm with gusts up to 60 mph, Parisi wrote that she “rested, journaled, meditated, shed a few tears,” and decided “Climbing isn’t about holding on, it’s about letting go.”

Good thing she did; It turns out Parisi did more than dislocate a finger. 

“There are a series of tendons that come down your pointer finger and around the base of your palm, called the volar plate, and that tendon got stuck in some climbing gear,” she said. “It looks like a dislocation. When it happened, I relocated it pretty quickly, but the pain was kind of unbearable for the next week or two. So, I finally went to the doctor last fall and they looked at it and they said, ‘It’s not going to get better. You tore up the ligaments and broken the volar plate.’ So, I have to have that reconstructed.”

That means she lived with that injury for four months and even climbed Vinson Massif without the benefit of her dominant right hand. Parisi credits her wife with finally convincing her to get it looked at.

“I just figured I was getting old, and it was sore, but she talked me into going to the doctor eventually,” said Parisi, uttering the words every spouse loves to see in print. “Yeah, she was right, like usual!”

Next up, Parisi said she will make a second attempt to conquer Mount Denali in Alaska. “That’s going to be next, sometime in summer of 2022.” And then next year: Mount Everest, the last of the seven summits, and at 29,050 feet, the tallest. 

“2023 is the 70th anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s expedition, and we want to be up there for the 70th anniversary,” she said. “I think it’s a little-known fact that Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay had a trans member on their team. And we want to tell her story.” That would be the story of Jan Morris, a journalist for The Times of London, who died in 2020.

Given her location, Parisi has been out of touch with news of the world as well as what’s been happening with her wife and their nine-year-old child in Colorado. She also missed both Christmas and New Year’s as well as her birthday. Well, almost missed, thanks to a surprise celebration organized by her fellow climbers and organizers back home, which she shared on Instagram

(Photo courtesy of Erin Parisi)

“My team and the @climbingsevensummits team surprised me by serving dessert bubbles 🥂 and cheesecake, and leading the entire camp in 2 rounds of “Happy Birthday.” I was completely embarrassed, but my mind was set at ease and I warmed to the idea that I might just fit with this crew climbing through New Year.”

Parisi really needed that boost; She was having doubts again. “Imposter syndrome is real, and after missing the Denali summit last May, I was confident I didn’t belong here,” she wrote on Instagram. That feeling stemmed from feeling as if she was “the only trans person” on the continent, not just last month, but ever. 

When she returned to civilization, the Los Angeles Blade caught her up on the latest controversies dogging the transgender population: hate directed at both UPenn swimmer Lia Thomas and Jeopardy! champion Amy Schneider, simply because they’re winning their respective competitions.  

“I don’t understand it, with the Jeopardy! champion, either, because, there’s no way to say she has any advantage, or that it’s unfair to anyone, or that she’s taken something from anyone else. I mean, there’s just no argument to disparage her by,” said Parisi. “It blows my mind how stubborn people are just recognizing somebody’s right to exist. Live and let live. And I’m hoping that 2022 somehow will be a better year.”

Parisi is active in promoting transgender rights, and the flag she carries on every expedition incorporates the trans pride flag designed by Monica Helms. “We really take pride in putting the pink, blue and white up there,” she said. “I climb these summits just to kind of remind myself and remind the world that you can be yourself and you can enjoy the things you enjoy. You don’t have to make a choice.”

Other than her lifelong love of mountain climbing, which she told TripAdvisor last summer began when she was climbing trees at age 6, Parisi said she finds joy in every part of living her authentic life. 

“I find joy in the outdoors. I find joy in breathing the fresh air. I find joy in my nine-year-old child. I convinced myself I was unlovable, and now I have probably, not even probably, hands down, the most loving relationship that I’ve ever had in my life, post-transition. I find great joy in being loved and loving. I love cooking and just everything about life is better, when you’re yourself.” 

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Follow Parisi’s adventures on Instagram at @transending7 and learn more about her mission and how to support her nonprofit organization at transending7.org

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Referee resigns, calls for work stoppage over Trans swimmer

“Millen is now calling on officials to refuse to work races where transgender swimmers are to race against biological females”

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Cynthia Millen (left) and University of Penn senior Lia Thomas (right) (Los Angeles Blade montage)

COLORADO SPRINGS – A 30 year veteran referee who has officiated for USA Swimming quit in protest over the inclusion of 22-year-old University of Pennsylvania Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas in women’s swimming competitions.

In separate interviews with Fox News, its subsidiary right-wing anti-LGBTQ online sports outlet OutKick and the right-wing conservative newspaper The Washington Times, Cynthia Millen said that she felt compelled to quit as she was opposed to biological men competing against women.

In a December 17 letter to USA Swimming headquarters in Colorado Springs, Millen announced she was quitting in protest.

“I can’t do this, I can’t support this,” Millen said in her letter. “I told my fellow officials that I can no longer participate in a sport which allows biological men to compete against women,” Millen wrote adding, “Everything fair about swimming is being destroyed.”

On December 22, Millen appeared on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson stating that “bodies compete against bodies. Gender identities don’t swim.”

Thomas began competing with the women’s swim team as a transgender athlete after competing for three years on the men’s swim team and more than two-and-a-half years on hormone replacement therapy (HRT). She ranks first in the NCAA among women in the 200 and 500 freestyles this season and 6th in the 1650 free – a race she won by 38 seconds at the Zippy Invite according to the online publication SwimSwam.

In the interview with The Washington Times, Millen said that if she officiated at a meet that included Thomas, that she would rule Thomas ineligible to compete against female swimmers, according to the Times, even though Thomas has met the NCAA-established criteria to compete in women’s races.

“I don’t mean to be critical of Lia — whatever’s going on, Lia’s a child of God, a precious person — but bodies swim against bodies,” she said her letter that she shared with The Washington Times . “That’s a male body swimming against females. And that male body can never change. That male body will always be a male body.”

“If Lia came on my deck as a referee, I would pull the coach aside and say, ‘Lia can swim, but Lia can swim exhibition or a time trial. Lia cannot compete against those women because that’s not fair,’” Millen told The Washington Times.

Millen is now calling on officials to refuse to work races where transgender swimmers are to race against biological females, the paper reported.

USA swimming CEO Tim Hinchey said in a podcast with Brett Hawke last week that Thomas is not a member of USA Swimming, nor was she a participant at the U.S. Paralympic National Championships.

NCAA requires transgender athletes to undergo, for transgender women, a year of testosterone-suppression treatment. Thomas has fulfilled the requirement, and neither the NCAA nor USA Swimming has commented on her season. Thomas has only swum at meets as part NCAA’s Division I, but her times could help her qualify and compete at Olympic Trials, a USA Swimming meet, SwimSwam noted.

Millen’s resignation is just the latest in a growing chorus of anti-Trans critics outraged over Thomas being included on the roster and competing for the University of Pennsylvania women’s swim team.

At the beginning of the month, a member of the University of Pennsylvania Women’s swim team spoke to OutKick, and proceeded to anonymously attack Thomas.

The swimmer who said she feared for her ability to find employment after graduating from college for sharing her honest opinion about her Trans teammate, was given anonymity according to OutKick for that reason.

In the OutKick article the unnamed female swimmer alleges that most members of the team have expressed displeasure over the situation [Thomas on the team] to their coach, Mike Schnur.

“Pretty much everyone individually has spoken to our coaches about not liking this. Our coach [Mike Schnur] just really likes winning. He’s like most coaches. I think secretly everyone just knows it’s the wrong thing to do,” the female Penn swimmer said during a phone interview.

“When the whole team is together, we have to be like, ‘Oh my gosh, go Lia, that’s great, you’re amazing.’ It’s very fake,” she added.

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