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All Stars: D.C. Aquatics Club

Swimmers from all backgrounds find camaraderie in local group

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District of Columbia Aquatics Club, gay news, Washington Blade

Tommy Scibilia and Sara Hewitt have balanced career, swimming and competition in the D.C. Aquatics Club. (Photo of Scibilia by Tom Park; photo of Hewitt courtesy of Hewitt)

Two former college club swimmers, one gay and one straight, from the District of Columbia Aquatics Club are featured this week in the ongoing All Star series in the Washington Blade. The LGBT sports community in D.C. has grown to more than 7,000 athletes and has drawn in both gay and straight competitors.

At the urging of his parents, Tommy Scibilia played everything from baseball to volleyball to soccer while he was growing up in Fairax, Va. None of them stuck until he started swimming year around in the eighth grade. He swam all four years in high school and when he committed to attend the University of Virginia, he had a decision to make.

“I chose the club swimming route which is part competitive and part social,” Scibilia says. “I’m glad that I did that because a lot of the varsity swimmers burn out. I still appreciate the sport and want to continue to pursue it.”

Though it may not be as intense as NCAA swimming, college club swimming is filled with athletes looking to challenge themselves. Scibilia attended up to six meets per school year at different schools as well as the Collegiate Club Swimming Championships at Georgia Tech.

After graduating with a master’s degree in urban and environmental planning, Scibilia moved back to the area in 2016 and works as a city planner in Fairfax. One of his new roommates told him about the LGBT-based D.C. Aquatics and he joined a few months later.

Scibilia attended his first meet with his new teammates in Miami in May at the International Gay & Lesbian World Championships. He says the experience could have been intimidating but his teammates and past swimming races helped him feel comfortable.

“It comes back pretty fast when you are up on the blocks again. You don’t lose the spirit of it,” Scibilia says. “I’m a little shy and I wasn’t sure what to expect being new and younger, but everyone was welcoming and really funny.”

Coming up for Scibilia is the D.C. Aquatics-hosted meet in October and plans to attend his first Gay Games in Paris next year. He says the swim meets are a good way to get to know his teammates outside of the regular practice routine.

“I like the age range on D.C. Aquatics. It’s cool to know that people have been swimming on this team for decades,” Scibilia says. “I have a lot to look forward to in the future.”

Sara Hewitt was born in D.C. and grew up in Glen Echo, Md. She swam in the Montgomery County Swim League from ages 5-18 along with swimming on her high school team for four years. While she was attending University of Maryland, she joined the college club team that was formed in her senior year.

After graduation, she was swimming on her own in 2010 at the Tacoma Aquatic Center and spotted D.C. Aquatics across the pool having a butterfly workout.

“I saw them again the next week and went up and asked if I could join,” Hewitt says. “I looked at their website to see if they accepted straight people and it wasn’t a prerequisite to be gay. I was excited about getting a real practice with a team.”

After a couple months of training, Hewitt attended her first meet and during her 100-yard individual medley race, her new teammates stepped forward to cheer her on.

“This is a welcoming group of people and there is so much camaraderie,” Hewitt says. “Safe spaces in sports are important and it’s incredible to be a part of their safe space.”

Hewitt, who works as an engineer, attended her first International Gay & Lesbian World Championships in Honolulu in 2011 and has since been to the championships in Reykjavik, Seattle, Stockholm and Miami.

She also marches every year with her teammates in the Capital Pride parade and next year will mark her first participation in the Gay Games in Paris. The environment continues to feel welcome to her and she shares an experience from the Championships in Miami this past May.

“I lost my goggles in my first race, the 800-meter freestyle, and when I finished the Miami-based timer said, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe you kept swimming.’ The timer in my second race was the boyfriend of the timer in the first race. Both guys ended up cheering for me in all the rest of my races. I am meeting encouraging people that I will see again at future competitions. What a great environment for a swim meet.”

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Protester with Pride flag disrupts World Cup game

Protest took place during match between Portugal and Uruguay

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(Al Jazeera screenshot)

During a World Cup match between Portugal and Uruguay Monday, a lone protester ran across the field waving a Pride flag moments after the second half kickoff.

Video and still images show the man wearing a blue T-shirt emblazoned with the Superman symbol and the phrase “Save Ukraine” on the front and “Respect for Iranian Woman” on the back.

Screenshot of news coverage at the World Cup 2022 games from Al Jazeera

Qatari security personnel chased him down and then marched him off the playing field. Israeli Public Radio correspondent Amichai Stein tweeted video clips of the incident:

FIFA had no immediate comment on the incident, the Associated Press noted reporting that in the first week of the tournament in Qatar, seven European teams lost the battle to wear multi-colored “One Love” armbands during World Cup matches. Fans also complained they weren’t allowed to bring items with rainbow colors, a symbol of LGBTQ rights, into the stadiums of the conservative Islamic emirate.

Qatar’s laws against homosexuality and treatment of LGBTQ people were flashpoints in the run-up to the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East. Qatar has said everyone was welcome, including LGBTQ fans, but that visitors should respect the nation’s culture.

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Blinken criticizes FIFA threat to fine World Cup team captains with ‘one love’ armbands

Qatar criminalizes homosexuality by death

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday criticized FIFA over its threat to sanction European soccer teams if their captains wore “one love” armbands during the 2022 World Cup.

“It’s always concerning from my perspective when we see any restrictions on freedom of expression. It’s especially so when the expression is for diversity and for inclusion,” Blinken told reporters during a press conference with Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani in Doha, the Qatari capital. “And in my judgment, at least, no one on a football pitch should be forced to choose between supporting these values and playing for their team.”

Seven European soccer teams on Monday announced their captains will not wear LGBTQ and intersex armbands during the 2022 World Cup after FIFA threatened to sanction them.

The captains of Belgium, Denmark, England, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Wales had planned to wear the armbands in support of the LGBTQ and intersex community during the World Cup. The teams on Monday in a joint statement said they would not wear the armbands because FIFA had threatened to sanction them if their captains did.

The World Cup began in Qatar on Sunday.

Qatar is among the handful of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain punishable by death. A report that Human Rights Watch published last month noted several cases of “severe and repeated beatings” and “sexual harassment” of LGBTQ and intersex people while in police custody from 2019 and September 2022. 

A State Department official last week acknowledged to the Washington Blade that the U.S. raised LGBTQ and intersex rights with the Qatari government ahead of the World Cup.

The U.S. men’s soccer team while in Qatar will have a redesigned logo with the Pride flag in its badge. Blinken attended their match against Wales on Monday.

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European soccer teams won’t wear ‘one love’ armbands after FIFA threatens sanctions

World Cup began in Qatar on Sunday

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Iran plays England during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar on Nov. 21, 2022. (Screenshot via FS1)

Seven European soccer teams on Monday announced their captains will not wear LGBTQ and intersex armbands during the 2022 World Cup after FIFA threatened to sanction them.

The captains of Belgium, Denmark, England, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Wales planned to wear “one love” armbands during the World Cup. The teams in a joint statement said FIFA threatened to sanction them if their captains wore them.

“We were prepared to pay fines that would normally apply to breaches of kit regulations and had a strong commitment to wearing the armband. However, we cannot put our players in the situation where they might be booked or even forced to leave the field of play,” read the statement. “We are very frustrated by the FIFA decision, which we believe is unprecedented.”

“As national federations, we can’t put our players in a position where they could face sporting sanctions including bookings,” added the statement.

The World Cup began in Qatar on Sunday.

Qatar is among the handful of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain punishable by death.

Human Rights Watch last month published a report that noted “arbitrary” arrests of LGBTQ and intersex people between 2019 and September 2022 and several cases of “severe and repeated beatings” and “sexual harassment in police custody” during the aforementioned period. World Cup Ambassador Khalid Salman earlier this month described homosexuality as “damage in the mind” during an interview with a German television station.

Peter Tatchell, a British activist, on Oct. 25 protested the country’s LGBTQ and intersex rights record while standing outside the National Museum of Qatar in Doha, the country’s capital. A State Department official on Nov. 18 acknowledged to the Washington Blade that the U.S. raised LGBTQ and intersex rights with the Qatari government ahead of the World Cup.

The U.S. men’s soccer team while in Qatar will have a redesigned logo with the Pride flag in its badge. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will attend their match against Wales on Monday.

England played Iran on Monday. The Netherlands on Monday will play Senegal.

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