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Couples that play together, stay together

Meet locals who mix love and sport

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LGBT sports couples, gay news, Washington Blade

Brigid Beech and Sharifa Love met while playing for the Furies. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

There are a lot of clichés about relationships that people either embrace or avoid.

Love is blind. Opposites attract. It was love at first sight.

What about ‘couples who play together, stay together’?

Meet two LGBT sports couples from D.C. who are carving their own path together by including sports in their relationships.

When Sharifa Love was attending Yale, her roommates were all rugby players and they repeatedly asked her to join their team. Love was busy with other sports and just brushed it aside. It wasn’t until the end of her senior year that they convinced her to come to a rugby practice because they were short a player for an upcoming tournament.

“During a tackle at that first practice, the other girl ended up bleeding and crying,” says Love. “I turned to my new teammates and said, ‘This is the best, I’ll be back.’”

Growing up in Rockville, Love played soccer all the way through high school along with running track. While attending Yale, she ran track for two years and then turned her focus on intramural sports such as squash and ice hockey.

The rugby experience stayed with her after the first tournament and when she returned to the D.C. area after graduation, she looked up adult rugby and joined the DC Furies in 2009.

“I love the physicality and the strategic aspect of the game. Most of my improvement has come from becoming more familiar with tactics,” Love says. “Plus, I just like hitting people; it’s a great outlet.”

Love, who is the development and communications coordinator at SMYAL, is enjoying her life as a rugger. She loves the community aspect and has played all over the country as part of the Women’s Premier League. This November her team will travel to nationals in Phoenix, Ariz.

In 2013, she began dating one of her teammates, Brigid Beech. They had been playing together for the Furies for four years.

Beech arrived in D.C. in 2005 for a job with IBM, consulting with federal clients. It was her first job out of college and as the years passed, she found herself in a rut.

“My life was terrible and I was hating everything,” says Beech. “It finally hit me that I hadn’t played sports in three years, so in 2009 I joined the Furies.”

Born in Ireland, Beech was raised in West Newbury, Mass., and in her first year of high school, she played soccer, basketball and softball. She transferred to a boarding school and changed things up by switching to cross country, ice hockey and lacrosse.

“I really enjoy the culture of team sports,” Beech says. “I have always been the ‘class clown’ and that sense of belonging is important.”

Beech took a gap year and played soccer with a team in Germany while being a part of the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange. During her four years at Bates College, she played rugby and captained in her senior year.

Just one year after she started dating Love, Beech would leave the Furies and return to ice hockey playing for the Washington Wolves.

“The level of play and amount of dedication required is very high in rugby,” says Beech. “Picking ice hockey back up is vital to my ability to remember that everything is not about work. I need a healthy outlet and a support system.”

Both women are now playing together again with Rogue Darts while they also maintain their separate sports.

Love said, “We had been friends all along on the Furies, and when we became a couple there was some awkwardness with the team at practices and scrimmages. We didn’t want to show up at practice and be ‘that’ couple.”

Beech replied, “I had dated other players on the team and there is a risk in introducing another layer into a safe space. It becomes high stakes. … It felt super competitive at the beginning. She is so fast and once I caught a piece of her jersey and tackled her out of bounds after the whistle blew. It wasn’t one of my finer moments. She was so pleased that she had gotten me riled up.”

While he was attending Pacific Lutheran University, Ken Kriese was interested in rowing but just couldn’t pull the trigger. He had a physical education requirement and ended up choosing aerobics instead of rowing. Kriese was a military brat growing up and none of the sports he tried, such as soccer and bowling, clicked with him. Born in Tehran, he grew up all over the place but considers Seattle home.

“I spent my junior year of college abroad in England and finally connected with rowing,” says Kriese. “I rowed at Pacific Lutheran for my senior year along with two years while completing my master’s at University of Minnesota.”

Following his doctorate work at the University of California, Davis and a short stint in Memphis, Kriese came to D.C. in 2007 where he works in migratory bird conservation for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. He joined the DC Strokes Rowing Club shortly after arriving.

“Rowing is a natural fit for me because I like the team aspect. You row as a team, you race as a team, and you win as a team,” Kriese says. “DC Strokes has become my circle of friends and family. Because of what I do for a living, it is also appealing to me to be out on the water.”

While he was serving as president of the Strokes in 2015, Kriese met Jeffrey Gonzalez who was serving as the coordinator of the DC Front Runners. The Strokes volunteered at Pride Run 5K and the Front Runners volunteered at Stonewall Regatta. Numbers were exchanged.

Gonzalez moved to the area in 2007 and saw the Front Runners at the Capital Pride parade. He joined the group and has since completed 19 marathons in locations around the world.

His father was in the military and after being born in Colorado, Gonzalez grew up in Fayetteville, N.C., where he didn’t play any sports.

“I was an overweight kid and I started running in the 9th grade and lost a bunch of weight,’ says Gonzalez. “I stuck with running on my own, and ran my first marathon in my senior year of high school.”

After earning degrees at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and University of Michigan, Gonzalez works as a division chief at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and wrapped up his Ph.D. at the University of Maryland.

“I didn’t know anyone when I moved here and it has been great being a part of the Front Runners family,” Gonzalez says.

Kriese had completed a marathon before they met and together they have run marathons across the country. Kriese rowed at the USRowing Masters Nationals last week and both will be running at the Dopey Challenge at Walt Disney World in a few months.

“One of our first dates was a White House tour and we were in the Red Room when the same-sex marriage ruling came through,” said Gonzalez. “I decided to keep dating him even though he was wearing pleated pants.” Gonzalez added, “I am more of a solitary competitive person. He is very competitive. Sometimes I think we are just going out for a casual run, and then he goes balls out. It’s nice to have someone to get you out the door to train though I find myself being mad at him for both sides of that.”

Kriese replied, “Yes, I am a competitive person but I am competing against myself, not him. I have been told not to run faster than him, but I have. If one of us is feeling good, he can take off.”

LGBT sports couples, gay news, Washington Blade

Ken Kriese and Jeffrey Gonzalez met thanks to their shared love of running. (Photo by Shawn Lo)

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Sports

Lia Thomas breaks silence after losing case to compete in Olympics, other elite women’s sports

Riley Gaines calls ruling a ‘victory’

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Lia Thomas (YouTube screen capture)

Transgender All-American swimming champion Lia Thomas will not be allowed to compete at the Olympics in Paris this summer, or any elite women’s competition, after a worldwide ban on trans women athletes was upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. And for the first time since granting an interview to ESPN in May 2022, Thomas is speaking out, as is her fiercest critic, Riley Gaines

The University of Pennsylvania graduate commented on this week’s ruling in a statement issued through her attorney, saying that the decision should serve as a “call to action for trans women athletes.”

“The CAS decision is deeply disappointing,” Thomas said. “Blanket bans preventing trans women from competing are discriminatory and deprive us of valuable athletic opportunities that are central to our identities. The CAS decision should be seen as a call to action to all trans women athletes to continue to fight for our dignity and human rights.”

On Wednesday, three CAS judges dismissed the athlete’s request for arbitration with World Aquatics, the governing body for swimming organizations around the world, claiming rules regarding transgender competitors introduced two years ago were discriminatory.

Three months after Thomas became the first out trans Division I NCAA champion in March 2022, World Aquatics voted to prohibit trans women who had been through male puberty from competing in elite meets for cisgender women. Only trans women who had completed their medical transition by the age of 12 were allowed to compete with cisgender women. The organization introduced an “open category” in its 50-meter and 100-meter races across all strokes, which would allow athletes whose gender identity differs from the sex they were presumed to be at birth to compete with anyone else. But they would no longer be allowed to compete with other women who were not trans. 

In asking CAS to overturn the ruling last year, Thomas argued that the guidelines were discriminatory, “invalid and unlawful,” as the Los Angeles Blade reported. But the judges dismissed her claim, stating she had no standing and is not eligible to compete in elite competitions through World Aquatics or USA Swimming “for the time being,” so the policy does not apply to her.

“She is currently only entitled to compete in USA Swimming events that do not qualify as ‘Elite Events,'” according to the judges. “The panel concludes that she lacks standing to challenge the policy and the operational requirements in the framework of the present proceeding,” said the court in its ruling.

The judges said USA Swimming had no authority “to modify such scope of application” of the world governing body’s rules.

World Aquatics said it welcomed the CAS decision in a case “we believe is a major step forward in our efforts to protect women’s sport.” 

Even had the court ruled in her favor, Thomas is not named on the preliminary entry list for the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, which begin this weekend in Indianapolis ahead of the start of the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris next month.

To failed swimmer turned vocal anti-trans inclusion activist and Gaines, that is “great news.” “Great news! Lia Thomas won’t be able to compete in women’s category at the Olympics or any other elite competition. He has just lost his legal battle in Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling,” Gaines posted on her social media Wednesday, misgendering Thomas. “This is a victory for women and girls everywhere.”

But Gaines did not stop there. A few hours later, she shared an article about the ruling from the right-wing tabloid, the New York Post, and threw down a challenge to the NCAA: “Now the @ncaa needs to strip him of every award, title, and record he stole from a deserving female athlete.” 

Other conservative anti-trans media such as the Daily Mail and other outlets also hailed the decision. But above the fray, one voice has consistently stood out in support of Thomas: Her friend, Schuyler Bailar, who became the first trans athlete to compete on a NCAA Division I men’s team when he swam for Harvard. He called the CAS ruling, “devastating.” 

“This is not inclusion. This is textbook discrimination,” Bailar said in a post on Instagram. “And it is a result of the vicious, disgusting, anti-trans and misogynistic rhetoric that has infected this country and the world. Rhetoric that is not based in science but rather in hatred, fueled by power hungry people who do not care truly about women or women’s sports. I’m not sure what is next in this moment — but history will not look back favorably on this decision.” 

The Blade has reached out to Thomas through her representative for comment and did not receive a response as of press time. 

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Africa

Kenya seeks to ban intersex athletes from lowering hormone levels to compete in sports

Country’s human rights body has put forth measure

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(Bigstock photo)

Kenya’s state-funded human rights body does not want intersex athletes in the country to lower their hormone levels as a requirement to compete in any sport.

The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights in a proposal to the National Assembly notes it will ensure non-discrimination and fairness for intersex people in sports.  

The proposal in the Intersex Persons Bill, 2024, is among numerous amendments to existing laws that seek to grant intersex people equal rights after the government in 2019 officially recognized them as a third sex.

According to the bill that would amend Kenya’s Sports Act of 2013, this will require the Sports and Youth Affairs Ministry’s Cabinet secretary and the National Council for Intersex Persons, which the measure would create, to develop measures that ensure fairness for sporting intersex people when enacted.            

“The measures shall not require a person to alter their biological hormonal composition as a condition to participating in any sporting activity or program,” reads the bill. 

Although the measures would apply nationally, they would contradict the World Athletics Council’s 2018 regulations that similarly bar female transgender athletes from participating in international competitions, such as the Olympic Games. Intersex Kenyan athletes have to abide by these rules at the global level.       

The World Athletics through the regulations noted trans women who naturally have higher levels of testosterone compared to ordinary women have to undergo medication or surgery to lower their testosterone levels as a condition before competing in races of between 400 meters and a mile. Kenya’s National Olympic Committee supports these rules.

Some top female trans athletes barred from competing in the Olympic events from the World Athletics regulations due to their high natural testosterone levels include Margaret Wambui of Kenya, Caster Semenya of South Africa, Aminatou Seyni of Niger and and Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi.

The trans athletes opposed the World Athletics regulations with Semenya challenging them in court, but lost the case, even though the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2019 criticized the rules. UNHCR cautioned sports bodies not to “force, coerce or otherwise pressure women and girl athletes into undergoing unnecessary, humiliating and harmful medical procedures.” 

Kenya National Commission on Human Rights Deputy Director Veronica Mwangi, who spoke with the Washington Blade about the bill’s controversial proposal, said Kenya, which is the only African country to recognize intersex people as a third sex, has started the conversation with a “bigger picture” for the international sporting bodies to create an alternative competition for them to exploit their talents without reducing their hormonal levels or interfering with their biological characteristics as the condition before competing.      

“As KNCHR, we are very clear that we cannot afford to continue discriminating and marginalizing persons who are born as intersex, but rather we can promote conversations of inclusivity where the Semenya of South Africa, an equivalent of Semenya in Uganda and an equivalent in the U.S. or Kenya can have a special sporting event like the Paralympics for persons living with disabilities,” Mwangi said. 

She also questioned the fairness of World Athletics and other international sporting bodies in demanding “the Semenyas or talented intersex persons” to undergo hormonal therapy which then affects the athletes’ well-being after interfering with their biological anatomy.   

“These governing sporting bodies should not come back to us that it is the intersex persons to carry the blame,” Mwangi said. “It is not the responsibility of the intersex (person) but they are duty-bearers and should think of mechanisms to grow their talents and not find an easy way out of demanding to change who they are.” 

Mwangi disclosed the proposal is driven by KNCHR’s special task force report that found most intersex school children are talented and perform well in sports. 

Kenya’s Intersex Persons Implementation Coordination Committee is already identifying talented intersex people, including those in schools, to support their growth in sports. Kenya’s 2019 Census found there are 1,524 intersex people in the country.

Other amendments to the Intersex Persons Bill include an employment provision that would cap an intersex person’s monthly income tax at 25 percent of wages, compared to other Kenyans whose maximum taxable income stands at 35 percent, depending on one’s monthly total earnings.  

“Capping the income tax or wages for intersex persons at 25 percent is a tax consideration in the form of an affirmative action to uplift them in economic development and it is similar to that of persons living with disability who are tax exempted as marginalized groups,” Mwangi said.

The bill further seeks to amend the Health Act for any parent with an intersex child born at home to report the birth at the nearest government administration office or risk a fine of not more than $1,000 or a six-month prison term, or both, after being found guilty of concealing an intersex child’s identity.

The proposed law, moreover, seeks to create the National Council for Intersex Persons, whose mandates would include the creation of initiatives and programs to prevent discrimination against intersex people, creating a database for all intersex people and accrediting the group for employment purposes.  

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Sports

NFL player’s misogynistic, homophobic comments spark outrage

Harrison Butker gave Benedictine College commencement address on Saturday

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Harrison Butker (Benedictine College YouTube screenshot)

Addressing a friendly audience at a private, Catholic liberal arts college, three-time Super Bowl champion Harrison Butker spoke from his heart about his faith and revealed his personal beliefs as a cisgender man about women and the LGBTQ community. 

In his 20-minute commencement address at Benedictine College on Saturday, the Kansas City Chiefs kicker said LGBTQ Pride Month events are an example of biblical “deadly sins,” denounced “dangerous gender ideologies” and the “diabolical lies told to women,” declared a woman’s most important title is “homemaker,” and offered his take on abortion, in vitro fertilization and surrogacy, as well as President Joe Biden. 

Butker, 28, criticized Biden’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and questioned his devotion to Roman Catholicism, calling him “delusional.” Speaking directly to the men in the audience, the athlete advised them to “be unapologetic in your masculinity,” and to “fight against the cultural emasculation of men.”

The pro football player announced that God had given him a platform to speak and that, “I have no other choice but to embrace it,” he said. 

Those in attendance laughed in support of Butker when he mocked Pride Month as he cited a recent article by the Associated Press, headlined: “‘A step back in time’: America’s Catholic Church sees an immense shift toward the old ways.” The article detailed the institution’s shift “toward the old ways” and highlighted Benedictine’s rules that “seem like precepts of a bygone age,” which include “volunteering for 3 a.m. prayers” and “pornography, premarital sex, and sunbathing in swimsuits being forbidden.”

“I am certain the reporters at the AP could not have imagined that their attempt to rebuke and embarrass places and people like those here at Benedictine wouldn’t be met with anger but instead met with excitement and pride,” said Butker. “Not the deadly sins sort of Pride that has an entire month dedicated to it, but the true God-centered pride that is cooperating with the Holy Ghost to glorify him.” Butker went on to say that only by surrendering one’s self to Christ will anyone find happiness. 

“Harrison Butker gave a speech in his personal capacity,” the NFL’s senior vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer Jonathan Beane said in a statement addressing his comments. “His views are not those of the NFL as an organization. The NFL is steadfast in our commitment to inclusion, which only makes our league stronger.”

Sarah Kate Ellis, president of GLAAD, called Butker’s speech “inaccurate, ill-informed, and woefully out of step with Americans about Pride, LGBTQ people, and women.”

“Those with expansive platforms, especially athletes, should use their voices to uplift and expand understand and acceptance in the world,” she said in a statement. “Instead, Butker’s remarks undermine experiences not of his own and reveal him to be one who goes against his own team’s commitment to the Kansas City community, and the NFL’s standards for respect, inclusion and diversity across the league.”

Butker called on religious leaders “to stay in their lane and lead,” and told women their place was in the kitchen and the maternity ward.  

“I’m beyond blessed with the many talents God has given me, but it cannot be overstated that all of my success is made possible because a girl I met in band class back in middle school would convert to the faith, become my wife, and embrace one of the most important titles of all: Homemaker,” said Butker, and his words were met with thunderous applause. 

“It is you, the women, who have had the most diabolic lies told to you. Some of you may go on to lead successful careers in the world but I would venture to guess that the majority of you are most excited about your marriage and the children you will bring into this world,” Butker said.

The Chiefs did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but someone who handles social media for Kansas City posted on X that Butker doesn’t even live in Kansas City but in a suburb 30 miles outside city limits, in a now-deleted tweet. 

Someone then posted an apology using that account:

And Kansas City’s mayor himself apologized, also on X, saying “A message appeared earlier this evening from a city public account. The message was clearly inappropriate for a public account,” he posted. “The city has correctly apologized for the error, will review account access, and ensure nothing like it is shared in the future from public channels.”

Butker’s comments earned him comparisons to “The Handmaid’s Tale,” both in his words and in how his beard appeared similar to one of the Hulu series’ characters. 

You can watch Butker’s commencement address in full here: 

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