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Parents of gay athletes say sports brought them closer

Two local families on the powerful bond of competition

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sports parents of gay athletes, gay news, Washington Blade, sharing sports

Mark and Margie Hofberg say a shared love of sports has brought them closer. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

There is a family bond that occurs between parent and child when sports are a part of their everyday life. Between shuttling their children to practices, leagues, local tournaments and travel tournaments, a dynamic emerges for the parents that forms a way of life.

Sharing sports can foster a relationship that continues well into the child’s adult years. It’s a commonality that revolves around support and spending time together.

What happens when the child comes out as gay and continues to play sports? Does the dynamic change? Is it even still there?

Mark Hofberg grew up in Rockville, Md., and played multiple sports including travel-level basketball, soccer and baseball. He had a gangly phase in high school – growing one foot in a year – that relegated him to running cross country and playing frisbee and basketball recreationally while his body developed.

After coming out in his senior year of high school and growing into his 6’5” frame at the University of Maryland, Hofberg played club frisbee and any intramural sport you can think of from badminton to volleyball. He continued that through graduate school at Maryland.

Since 2012, he has been a part of the LGBT sports community in D.C. playing with the DC Gay Flag Football League, DC Pride Volleyball, Federal Triangles Soccer, DC Sentinels Basketball, Stonewall Kickball and Stonewall Dodgeball. He is in his fifth year of alternating between quarterback and captain for the Washington Generals flag football travel team.

“The LGBT sports community has given me an outlet that I need to play competitive sports,” says Hofberg. “I love it, and along with it I have found my best friends.”

Hofberg, who works in policy writing and research for an environmental nonprofit, says the person who has always been his biggest supporter is his mother, Margie Hofberg. DC Gay Flag Football is his main sport and wanting to share it with her, he asked if she would attend a game.

“She was very cautious at first, asking if I was sure she should come,” Mark Hofberg says. “Football and the league are a huge part of my life and I share everything with her. Why not share my friends?”

Margie Hofberg did indeed start coming to games and is now a regular on the sidelines along with sponsoring one of the teams through her Residential Mortgage Center. As part of her commitment as a sponsor, she runs “How to Buy a House” workshops for the players every season.

“I knew this would happen – she’s friends with more people than I am. She even goes to games when I am not there,” says Mark Hofberg, laughing. “It’s a great way for us to hang out and see each other. My dad, brother and grandfather have also been to games. I love sharing my life with my family.”

Margie Hofberg has been there all along, including coaching his youth soccer team and managing his youth baseball team.

“Whatever sport he was in, I was there supporting him and I loved every minute of it,” says Margie Hofberg. “The one thing I said when he came out to me was ‘I hope you understand you are still having my grandchildren.’”

She decided to become a sponsor of the DC Gay Flag Football League after attending Gay Bowl in Philadelphia in 2014.

“Once I saw what this community was about I wanted to become more involved and I have developed relationships beyond being Mark’s mom,” Margie Hofberg says. “Here is a group of people who are just like him and I am so glad he has an outlet to meet people. I have seen a different side of Mark emerge.”

For the Hofbergs, the sports story continues and it still revolves around support and spending time together. Margie Hofberg’s presence on the sidelines hasn’t gone unnoticed by the other players.

“I hope that seeing how Mark and I interact has helped motivate other players to start a discussion with their own family and friends,” she says. “I am so very proud of all the players in this league.”

Soccer has always been John Whitfield’s main sport and his father was a coach of his youth soccer team. When he moved on to a traveling club team, both his parents remained involved, coming to practices and games.

In his high school years in his hometown of Marysville, Wash., Whitfield played both school and club soccer and he spent two seasons playing soccer at Wartburg College. When he returned to finish his degree at Western Washington University, he continued in club and intramural soccer.

His parents had traveled to Wartburg in Iowa to see him play and the sports dynamic was still there in his collegiate years. Whitfield came out in the spring of his senior year at Western Washington.

“Soccer was always a part to focus on to separate myself from being gay. I used soccer as an excuse not to date,” says John Whitfield. “At my college graduation party, I did it all at once – came out to friends and family. I talked to a lot of people about it that day.”

He landed a job with Microsoft where he consults with the Department of Veterans Affairs, and right out of college they moved him to D.C. where Whitfield joined the Federal Triangles Soccer Club.

“My first team was very social and I stopped being afraid that playing with a gay soccer team was a gay thing,” John Whitfield says. “My two lives were finally merged together.”

Whitfield told his parents about the Federal Triangles and says they were intrigued and pleased that he was playing and meeting people. On their visits to D.C., both Debbie and Don Whitfield have attended their son’s soccer matches.

Whitfield has traveled with his team to the Gay Games and a tournament in New York. In 2016, he traveled with the Federal Triangles to the International Gay and Lesbian Football Association World Championships in Portland.

Sitting in the stands were his parents, his partner Hank, and his sister and her boyfriend. They had driven more than four hours to watch John compete. The final was played in the Portland Timbers Stadium and the Federal Triangles went on to win the world title.

“They have always been there to support me,” says John Whitfield. “Having them there to watch me play in that (MLS) stadium with my team was incredible.”

John Whitfield has two older sisters who also played soccer and their father Don was involved early on, recognizing the value in sports.

“Participating in athletics is a good learning experience for life in general,” says Don Whitfield. “When I was coaching them, it was also a good family experience. It has always been just a joy to watch my kids play.”

John advanced to the premier league at age 11 and the family experiences continued going from state to state for regional tournaments. Watching his son play continued during John’s college years.

Don Whitfield says he didn’t know that there were gay sports communities but that he is glad that they exist.

“I had seen him play in some big stadiums before Portland but it was very fun to watch him there playing at a competitive level. He is such a tough player,” Don Whitfield says. “I also enjoyed hanging out with his team afterwards when we went out for beers.”

The Whitfield family sports story remains strong and despite living on separate coasts, they continue to see each other on a regular basis.

“Before he came out, I could never put my finger on the tension because I didn’t have the tools to figure it out. Our relationship has improved dramatically because the fear is gone,” says Don Whitfield. “John is much more relaxed and my wife and I will always continue to be supportive.”

John Whitfield says his father Don Whitfield is always on the sidelines supporting him. (Photo courtesy the Whitfields)

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Sports

Washington Mystics to hold annual Pride game

Team to play Dallas Wings on Saturday

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Washington Mystics will be having their upcoming Pride game on Saturday against the Dallas Wings.

The Mystics Pride game is one of the team’s theme nights they host every year, with Pride night being a recurring event. The team faced off against the Phoenix Mercury last June. Brittney Griner, who Russia released from a penal colony in December 2022 after a court convicted her of importing illegal drugs after customs officials at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport found vape canisters with cannabis oil in her luggage, attended the game. 

Unlike the NBA, where there are currently no openly LGBTQ players, there are multiple WNBA players who are out. Mystics players Emily Englster, Brittney Sykes, and Stefanie Dolson are all queer.

The Mystics on June 1 acknowledged Pride Month in a post to its X account.

“Celebrating Pride this month and every month,” reads the message.

The game is on Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Entertainment and Sports Arena (1100 Oak Drive, S.E.). Fans can purchase special Pride tickets that come with exclusive Mystics Pride-themed jerseys. 

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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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