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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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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

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Photo courtesy of Josh Cavallo Instagram

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. 

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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.

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Erin Parisi (Photo courtesy of Erin Parisi)

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.”

(Photo courtesy of Erin Parisi)

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

(Photo courtesy of Erin Parisi)

“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.” 

********************

Follow Parisi’s adventures on Instagram at @transending7 and learn more about her mission and how to support her nonprofit organization at transending7.org

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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”

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Cynthia Millen (left) and University of Penn senior Lia Thomas (right) (Los Angeles Blade montage)

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.

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