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Gay rodeo veterans find adrenaline, family in circuit

Two legends on the International Gay Rodeo Association circuit to compete

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International Gay Rodeo Association, gay news, Washington Blade

Wade Earp, left, and Sonny Koerner compete with the International Gay Rodeo Association. (Photos courtesy the subjects)

Two legends on the International Gay Rodeo Association circuit will compete at the 30th anniversary World Gay Rodeo Finals this weekend in Las Vegas. The competition will feature the top 20 competitors on the Association circuit in 13 events. The finalists are determined by points accumulated over roughly 14 rodeos throughout the United States and Canada this past year.

On a beautiful morning on a ranch outside of Dallas, it’s feeding time and the animals are producing a loud symphony for their owner. Wade Earp apologizes for the background noise.

“The birds are going crazy this morning,” says Earp, “and it always makes the other animals frisky.”

Along with his partner, Earp raises ducks, geese, chickens, Bobwhite quail, donkeys and small breed goats. He says his whole life is farming and ranching. Oh and there’s that rodeo thing too.

Raised in Texas and Arkansas, Earp thrived in sports including baseball, soccer, softball, volleyball and basketball where he was all-state. His road to being a rodeo competitor is a journey that includes two older brothers who competed, competitive two-step dancing and a lifelong love of animals. Also, his father was a fireman and the fire department hosted the local rodeo every year.

Earp’s first gay rodeo event was barrel racing in 1999 and since then, he’s been a fixture on the gay rodeo circuit. In 2014, he was one of the featured cowboys in the film documentary, “Queens and Cowboys.” His accomplishments are too numerous to list here, but include the Association World Gay Rodeo Finals all-around cowboy and a Gay Games gold medal.

At this year’s finals, Earp has qualified for nine out of 13 events. He retired from bronc riding last year, but at 50 is still going strong in other events. He says he’s too hooked on the camaraderie of the gay rodeo circuit to consider retiring.

“I wish it wasn’t about gay or straight, but rodeo is very machismo. It’s tough to be an out gay rodeo competitor outside of this circuit,” Earp says. “There is such a family atmosphere here, especially with the rough stock competitors. It’s a place where people loan each other gear and help tie each other in in the chute.”

Earp is a direct descendant of the Earp brothers who gained fame from their Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. He tracked his link back to Virgil Earp when Time Life presented a family tree.

“It’s a tough name to live up to,” says Earp, “but I haven’t had it half as bad as my brother, Wyatt.”

Sonny Koerner remembers giggling the first time he saw men two-stepping together at Remington’s back in the early ‘90s. He would go on to become one of the first D.C. Cowboys. Earlier in his life he had been determined to become the first member of his family to become a rodeo competitor to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, who was the main male influence in his life.

Koerner grew up in multiple locations as a part of a military family, but spent a lot of time at his grandparent’s cattle ranch in Victoria, Texas. He started competing in junior rodeos at age 12 and has been competing off and on ever since.

He has been in the D.C. area since being stationed here in the early ‘90s during his military stint and now runs a consulting firm along with his partner. D.C. is not known to be a hotbed for rodeo, but he was pulled back into the sport after attending his first gay rodeo.

“I was kind of in tears as I sat in the stands and watched my first gay rodeo,” Koerner says. “I had not married both sides of my life; rodeo and being gay. The opposing sides of me were coming together. It was a cathartic.”

Koerner competed in his first gay rodeo in 1993 and has competed in all four categories, though he has focused on rough stock events:  bull riding, steer riding, steer wrestling and bareback bronc riding.

Now approaching 50, he has retired from bronc riding and has qualified for this year’s finals in the three other rough stock events and three camp events. The rough stock events can be brutal and require an elevated level of athleticism from the competitors.

Early on, Koerner excelled at sports such as track & field, basketball and football. He went to the University of Alabama on a track scholarship and is a 14-time medalist in track & field at the Gay Games along with winning a medal in steer riding. He says he has maintained his fitness all along to help with his rodeo events.

“There is a threshold that you cross in this sport in terms of training,” Koerner says. “Eventually it becomes more about knowledge, fitness and core.”

The prospect of retiring is definitely in Koerner’s crosshairs, but like his performances on bulls, he’s hanging on. He still loves it and he wants to help draw new people to the circuit. The Association is looking for new blood in the rough stock events to replace an aging core group and Koerner’s charisma is palpable.

“I have won plenty of buckles and I have plenty of awards. I still enjoy it, but I am past that point where I crave it,” Koerner says. “It’s the people that make up this rodeo family that are keeping me here. It’s more than the sport.”

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Celebrating sports history: DC Gay Flag Football’s 25th season

Head of District’s premier league says it’s ‘groovin’ to its silver anniversary

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The DC Gay Flag Football’s 25th season is underway. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

What started when gay football fans got together in the 1990s to play their favorite sport is now a D.C. institution with 270 players in 20 teams spread over three fields, playing in both fall and spring. 

“Get off the bench,” shouts the slogan on the league’s website. “Get in the game!” 

The D.C. Gay Flag Football League turns 25 years old this month and is considered not only the premier league of its kind in the District, but is recognized across the country for its players, organization, and spirit.

“The way we run our league and the way we compete make us stand out relative to the rest,” DCGFFL Commissioner Logan Dawson told the Washington Blade. 

For those who don’t know flag football from any other kind, the difference is easy to spot: There’s no contact allowed. As the rules say, “That includes tackling, diving, blocking, and screening. Instead, players wear flags that hang along their sides by a belt. To ‘tackle’ the person in possession of the ball, the opposing team needs to pull one or both of their flags off.” There are a lot more rules, but that’s the one that really sets it apart from tackle football. 

The sport itself dates back to World War II and its origins have been traced to Fort Meade, Md. 

What’s the secret to the league’s longevity? “I think we attract and hold on to great athletes who are highly competitive, not only on the field, but also, in our professional and personal lives,” he said. Dawson, 32, plays flag football as well as manages the league. He’s currently single, but says his first love is the weather. 

“I knew in second grade that I wanted to be a meteorologist,” said Dawson, who moved to the District to be a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. 

A prolific swimmer since high school, he came out as he started grad school at Purdue University in Indiana in 2012. In an op-ed appearing in Outsports in 2014, Dawson wrote about competing in his first Gay Games in Cleveland along with a group of other gay swimmers from Colorado, and left that experience determined to join a gay sports league. 

He found it in the fall of 2018 in the DCGFFL, the same year the league’s Generals team won Gay Games XVIII. The league supports up to five travel teams, which take part in annual tournaments nationwide. It also hosts a summer tournament each year in Rehoboth Beach, Del.

“There’s a good amount of participation by people who played in the league from the very early days,” Dawson said. “I think we’re just in the sweet spot, where we have a lot of the original participants, a lot of new players, and we’re just kind of grooving right now.”

The first group gathered at Francis Field near Dupont Circle in 1994. Three years later, another group formed to play just steps from the Washington Monument Mall. They came together in 1998 to form what is now the DCGFFL. 

“For the majority of those seasons, we mainly had one division that played that was co-ed,” said Dawson. “This is our second season that we’ve had a Womens+ Division made up of [cisgender] women, trans and nonbinary individuals.” The Womens+ teams are called the Senators. 

Jayme Fuglesten is director of the Womens+ Division and has played in the league in most seasons since 2011.

“The DCGFFL has been a major part of my adult life,” she says. “I came out while playing in the league in no small part because of the love and support of this community.”

Why does she think the league has been such a success to have lasted 25 years?

“I think the league has been so successful because of its focus on inclusion and community,” she says. “I remember being so surprised in my early years when JJ and so many others would just come right up to me, hug me, and welcome me. And that really hasn’t changed in the 20+ seasons I’ve been around. It also continues to grow and respond to the needs and desires of our players. One example of that is the new Womens+ division, which gives an additional space for people who identify as womens+ to play and cultivate stronger relationships.”

DC Gay Flag Football plans to celebrate its 25th anniversary with a dance party and silent auction at Penn Social on Saturday, Sept. 23. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Next month, the DCGFF will send both Generals and Senators to Gay Bowl XXIII in Seattle. “That’s going to be the first time we’re going to have two Womens+ teams at the Gay Bowl,” Dawson told the Blade. “It’s reflective of the new generation of the league.” 

Earlier generations had trouble attracting new players. As the Blade reported in 2019, what had been a steady number of 20 to 22 teams dropped dramatically to 14, its lowest roster since 2011. The league’s leadership turned it around with new recruiting events, new sponsors, changes in their social event locations, changes to their player draft and a change of venue for league play beyond Carter Barron fields in Rock Creek Park in Northwest Washington. 

Brentwood Hamilton Park in Northeast Washington is now home to the recreation division and Randall Field south of the Capitol is the league’s third venue. 

Just like every facet of society, from coast to coast, what happened next hit the league hard. “COVID happened in spring of 2020,” recalled Dawson. “Everything shut down, and we did not play for what amounted to three full seasons for a year and a half.”

But once the world emerged from quarantine and lockdowns, flag football players started flocking to the DCGFFL. “We’ve had probably over 150 new players join our league in the last two years,” he said.

One thing is certain, said Dawson: Despite the name, not everyone who plays in the gay flag football league is LGBTQ+. 

“It’s a really great community. There’s a straight couple that’s married and will be soon having a child in the next month or so,” Dawson said. “They met playing in the league, just like we’ve had gay couples who meet in the league and eventually get married and have children.”

Prominent among the league’s many sponsors is the NFL hometown team, the Washington Commanders. “They are highly supportive of us, not just financially, but also publicly supporting what we are, and our mission,” Dawson said. 

This current NFL season is the first since 2021 without an out gay player on the gridiron. That’s when Carl Nassib became the first active pro football player to come out as gay. 

(Washington Blade file photo by Adam Hall)

While Dawson said, “I’m sure there are more out there” who have not yet come out, Nassib’s retirement makes this anniversary of the DCGFFL even more significant. 

“It’s unfortunate people still feel they cannot be out while they’re playing and doing what they love, but that’s the reason why something like the D.C. Gay Flag Football League is so important,” he said. “To show that there are gay and trans athletes who exist and love playing sports.”

The league plans to celebrate its 25th anniversary with a dance party and silent auction at Penn Social on Saturday, Sept. 23 starting at 8 p.m. Check the website for ticket information.

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Carl Nassib announces retirement

Openly gay NFL player made history when he came out in 2021

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(CBS News screenshot)

Carl Nassib, who made history in 2021 when he became the first active player in the National Football League to come out as gay, announced Wednesday he is retiring at age 30. 

“This is a bittersweet moment for me,” the free agent wrote in a post on Instagram. “But after seven seasons and just over 100 NFL games I am officially retiring from football to focus on my company Rayze.” 

Rayze is a mobile platform that connects people willing to give of themselves with those who need it most, born of an experience in Tampa, Fla., where Bucs players volunteered as mentors to kids being held in a nearby juvenile detention center. Rayze’s website says the company serves to “shine a light on opportunities that need volunteers, while making nonprofit engagement, volunteer recruitment and donating as simple and intuitive as possible.” 

“It really feels like just yesterday starting out as a walk-in at Penn State,” Nassib wrote in his post. “Football has given me more than I ever could have imagined. I can truly hang up my helmet for the last time knowing I gave it everything I had.” 

Ever since he came out in 2021, the former defensive end for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has become a philanthropist for the LGBTQ community, especially for queer youth, personally donating $100,000 to the Trevor Project. That year, the NFL matched his donation, and in 2022, Nassib himself matched donations dollar for dollar, up to $100,000.

According to the Bucs, Nassib played in 99 regular-season NFL games with 38 starts,  recorded 187 tackles, 25.5 sacks, 45 tackles for loss, 59 quarterback hits, four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, one interception and 19 passes defended. In 2016, he the Cleveland Browns drafted him with the second pick in the third round. At Penn State, Nassib was a star player, leading the nation in sacks and forced fumbles during his senior year with the Nittany Lions in 2015.

“It was not an easy decision. It really, really wasn’t,” Nassib told People magazine in an exclusive interview timed to coincide with his Instagram. 

“This would have been my 23rd football season. I’ve been playing football since I was eight years old, and I’m really excited to move on to the next chapter of my life,” he said. 

Nassib says he began considering retirement last season before becoming a free agent, when he said he was “staying at the Bucs facility until 9 p.m. every night working on Rayze.”

“I feel like it’s my calling and it’s what I’m meant to do,” Nassib says of the app. “I’m really excited to move on to the next chapter of my life and to give Rayze everything that I have.”

In July, he posted that he had accepted an appointment to the board of directors of the local United Way chapter in his hometown of West Chester, Pa. 

Nassib said he is also going to work with the NFL in a new role, in matters related to the league’s philanthropic endeavors and its “diversity, equity and inclusion.”

“I think that I can provide a very rare and specific view of how life is for an out gay player, and I think that there are some amazing opportunities that I can also learn,” he told People.

“Maintaining that relationship shows that the NFL is continuing to support me. They’ve supported me so much over the last two years, and I really couldn’t have done it without that support,” he said.

Nassib said the NFL’s offer to utilize him in this new role “continues to show people that you can be yourself and compete at the highest level.”

But what he’s most excited to do with his time now, he told People, is to spend the holiday season with his family and his boyfriend, retired Olympian Søren Dahl. 

“I’ve spent 11 out of 12 Christmases away from my family, many of them alone in my apartment,” said Nassib. “I haven’t spent Thanksgiving with my family since 2010, so I am really, really looking forward to spending time with my family, my friends, and those special moments. And that’s something that I’ve been looking forward to for years.” 

That’s one of the many reasons why he wrote on Instagram: “I really feel like the luckiest guy on the planet.”

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Close out the summer with Team DC

United Night Out held at Audi Field

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A scene from last year’s United Night Out. (Washington Blade file photo by Kevin Majoros)

Team DC and Federal Triangles Soccer Club will host “United Night Out” on Saturday, Aug. 26 at 7:30 p.m.

This event will celebrate the LGBTQ community and cheer on the Black-and-Red as they take on the Philadelphia Union.

Team DC is the association of LGBTQ sports clubs in the greater Washington region with 42 member clubs (including FTSC) with more than 7,000 participants. Team DC sponsors the Pride Night OUT Series, which helps organize Pride nights with all local pro teams. In 2023, Team DC will sponsor 14 different Pride nights, including the United Night OUT. 

Tickets are $30 and can be purchased on Team DC’s website

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