The rapid progression of LGBT rights and support for the LGBT sports movement in the United States over the past few years has ignited a hope in many of us that the same progression will happen in other countries around the world.
When I arrived at the pool two weeks ago in Edmonton, Canada for the International Gay & Lesbian Aquatics world championships (IGLA), I was excited to meet the five members of the Uganda Kuchus Aquatic Team who would be competing with us over five days of competition. Kuchu is Ugandan slang for “gay.”
I was greeted with hugs and shy smiles at our meeting which evolved into a kinship over the week through the commonality of sports.
The IGLA Board, led by co-presidents Kris Pritchard and Elisabeth Turnbull-Brown, stepped forward with funding along with the host team, Edmonton’s Making Waves Swim Club providing free meet registration and housing. Several of the swim teams under the IGLA umbrella also donated money to the cause.
Uganda is one of the countries that criminalizes same-sex sexual acts and just a few days before the meet, two of the swimmers were sitting in a Ugandan jail cell after being arrested at a Pride event.
One thing that probably surprised many people at the swim meet was that the presence of the Ugandan swimmers changed the atmosphere of the entire event.
“Having the Uganda Kuchus at IGLA this year was inspiring for many of us at the meet. The very existence of teams like the Kuchus is an act of bravery that deserves our support,” says Evan Cobb of Team New York Aquatics. “One of the best outcomes of their participation was how it changed the conversation at the meet itself. To me it seemed like more than ever before, IGLA participants were talking about how sports play a role in the struggle for LGBT rights and dignity around the world and that we as athletes have a big role to play.”
It’s hard to say why any of us get involved in particular causes, but I like to point to the “Popcorn Theory” that was presented in the book, “In a Heartbeat: Sharing the Power of Cheerful Giving” by Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy of “Blind Side” fame.
“It’s about noticing others and assigning that person value and potential,” they write. “You can’t help everyone, but you can try to help the hot ones who pop up in front of you. It requires that you perceive the person standing right in front of you and extend a hand in kindness.”
That speaks to what one of the Ugandan swimmers stated during a discussion panel when the moderator asked what people in the West could do to help the Ugandan cause. She replied, “We don’t need your help, we need your solidarity.”
One person who embodied that solidarity was swimmer Shoshanna Ehrlich of Liquid Assets New England Swimming in Boston. Not only did she spearhead the drive to raise $3,000 with her teammates, she was also seen poolside on a daily basis encouraging the Ugandan swimmers and offering tips on their swimming techniques.
“We have a lot of privilege here in the United States and we have a moral responsibility to contribute to the human rights of others,” Ehrlich says. “I wanted to offer as much swimming and emotional support as I could. They have risked so much just being here.”
Indeed. One Ugandan swimmer said that members of his family had asked him not to return and warned that he could be killed if he did. His future remains unclear.
As the week progressed, I bristled as the Ugandan swimmers were inundated with daily interviews from Canadian news outlets, often about deep topics and often right before they were stepping up on the blocks to compete.
I also smiled as I watched swimmers from all over the world engage with them on a human level. The week was filled with a mix of emotions as we enjoyed what we were experiencing, but also knew that it would be coming to an end. The Ugandans would be returning to an environment of persecution.
On night three of the competition, 20 members of the D.C. Aquatics Club hosted the Ugandan delegation for dinner and the two teams spent time enjoying a meal and watching the Olympic swimming together. I smiled again as my teammates engaged the Ugandans in typical swimmer conversations.
“Their presence at the meet really made me think about the human rights I have been afforded in the United States,” says D.C. Aquatics swimmer Kevin Muehleman. “Our conversation was light and I asked how their swims were going and what they would be swimming the next day. It was important not to make a spectacle of them.”
While it was clear that everyone was affected by the presence of the Ugandan swimmers, it really hit home on the final day when we were joined at the pool by M.P. Randy Boissonnault and his caseworker, Nathalie Gahimbare. They had been instrumental in obtaining the visas to allow the swimmers to travel to Canada.
At the end of the competition, the Uganda Kuchus Aquatic Team had won the world title in the small-team category. After they received their victory plaque, they performed a rap to the song “I Know Who I Am” that left the audience in tears.
Saying goodbye is never easy but we will remain connected in solidarity through social media. My heart is heavy, but it is filled with hope.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
“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.”
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”
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.
USA Swimming Official and SHERO Cynthia Millen said enough is enough and resigned!— Save Women’s Sports (@SaveWomensSport) December 28, 2021
How can you take a stand against the erasure of women’s sports?
The time to act is NOW! #SaveWomensSports https://t.co/2VHXZzW7O0
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