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All Star spotlight: Washington Renegades

Straight and gay players find challenge, athletics with local team

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Washington Renegades, gay news, Washington Blade

Haroon Chang (left) and Logan Cotton. (Chang photo courtesy Chang; Cotton photo courtesy Jill Williamson Photography)

The ongoing All Star series in the Washington Blade features players from sports teams in D.C. who welcome players regardless of sexual orientation, race or ethnicity. This week we meet two players from the Washington Renegades rugby team, one gay and one straight.

The Washington Renegades field competitive sides in the Mid-Atlantic Conference of USA Rugby. They recently sent three teams to the Bingham Cup in Amsterdam with all three squads reaching the semi-finals of their respective divisions. The Blues team won the Bingham Bowl beating the San Francisco Fog 20-0 in the final.

While completing his degrees at the University of Texas at Dallas, Haroon Chang attended a Halloween party hosted by a rugby team. He went to one of their practices and fell in love with the sport.

Growing up in Taiwan, Chang played a little basketball but was mostly focused on academics. His family moved to Dallas right before he started his college education. After graduation, he eventually moved to D.C. in 2012 because he wanted to see more of the country. A quick internet search led him to the Renegades.

“I didn’t know anyone when I moved here and I was looking to meet people and join a community,” Chang says. “I love rugby because it is physically demanding and a good workout. The sport has offered me a sense of family and brotherhood.”

Chang plays both inside and outside centre positions on the Renegades Reds team and last month competed in his second Bingham Cup in Amsterdam. Along with local league play, he has also traveled to tournaments with his teammates in Charlotte, Seattle and Nashville.

“It is amazing to play against teams from all over the world. On the field everyone is trying to win, but off the field we are a family,” Chang says. “It’s great reconnecting with other players at these tournaments. I am a little sad at the end because I wish it would keep going.”

The Renegades play rugby sevens in the summer but Chang, who works as a CPA, will be taking the summer off to catch up with friends. He will be back for the Renegades competitive match schedule in the fall.

“This is a good mix of gay and sports for me. We all play the sport because we love it and we come to the pitch to play,” Chang says. “Team means everyone, gay and straight.”

Rugby makes the world seem a little less big for Logan Cotton. After moving to D.C. in the fall of 2015, he posted on Facebook for rugby recommendations. A friend from college knew somone dating a guy on the Renegades and he signed on to play.

“The Renegades are committed to inclusion and I find that affirming and positive,” says Cotton, who is straight. “No one is beating their chest and there is no toxic masculinity. It’s super refreshing.”

Cotton grew up in Chicago and competed in soccer and swimming. He switched over to football while in high school and his first step into club rugby was while he was attending Tufts University. It was also at Tufts where he evolved to an inclusive mindset through his work at their LGBT center.

“Seeing it manifest in a new context (by playing sports on an LGBT-friendly team) is a good thing. Heteronormativity exists in all sports, but the Renegades have created a positive echo chamber and excel as stewards of the game,” Cotton says. “You can be great at the sport you are playing and still be better angels of our nature.”

Cotton’s path to D.C. was by way of work with Teach for America in Houston. He is now working as a federal consultant for Deloitte and geeks out over things like zoning, street development and when the expertise of the private sector and the government sector complement each other.

He plays as a scrum-half on the Renegades Blues team and missed the recent Bingham Cup in Amsterdam because LSATs (law school admission tests) were on the same weekend. He did play at the international event in Nashville in 2016 and welcomes all experiences with new cultures.

“The more you encounter people from around the world, the more you are growing your ability for empathy and compassion,” Cotton says. “Multiculturalism makes bonds across lines of differences. You be you, and I’ll be me.”

Cotton will be managing the Renegades sevens season this summer and is looking forward to helping players further their development.

“Complete rookies can become a positive factor for any of our teams. The Renegades give everyone an opportunity to improve and people are cheering you on through the process,” Cotton says. “Sports should be about ennobling human beings and pushing us away from our lizard base instincts.”

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Brittney Griner and wife celebrate birth of their son

Cherelle Griner gave birth to healthy baby boy earlier this month

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Brittney Griner (Screen capture via Instagram)

It’s a boy for Brittney and Cherelle Griner. The Phoenix Mercury center revealed the news in interviews with CBS Sports and NBC News. 

“Every minute I feel like he’s popping into my head, said Griner. “Literally everything revolves around him. And I love it.”

The couple officially welcomed the baby boy on July 8. He weighs 7 pounds, 8 ounces.

“That’s my man. He is amazing,” Griner told CBS Sports. “They said as soon as you see them, everything that you thought mattered just goes out the window. That’s literally what happened.” 

Griner, 33, corrected the CBS News correspondent who said, “You’re about to be a mom!” She told her Cherelle, 33, had already delivered the baby and that she preferred to be called,“Pops.” 

Griner told NBC News correspondent Liz Kreutz they chose to name their newborn son, “Bash.” 

The WNBA star said she is Bash’s biggest fan and is constantly taking photos of him. “My whole phone has turned into him now,” Griner told CBS Sports.

The baby comes as Griner gets set to play in Saturday’s WNBA All-Star Game and then head to Paris with Team USA to compete for their 8th straight gold medal at the Summer Olympic Games. 

“It kind of sucks because I have to leave, but at the same time, he will understand,” said Griner. 

Her time in Paris will mark the first time since the basketball star was released from a Russian gulag, where she was held on drug charges for nearly 10 months in 2022.

“BG is locked in and ready to go,” Griner told NBC News on Friday. “I’m happy, I’m in a great place. I’m representing my country, the country that fought for me to come back. I’m gonna represent it well.”

Griner also spoke with NBC News about her hopes the U.S. can win the freedom of imprisoned Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was sentenced to 16 years in a Russian maximum security prison on Friday. 

“We have to get him back,” she said. 

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High hurdler Trey Cunningham comes out as gay

Florida State University alum grew up in Ala.

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Trey Cunningham (Photo courtesy of Cunningham's Instagram page)

He didn’t get to punch his ticket to the Olympics this summer but Trey Cunningham, 26, one of the world’s best high hurdlers, is in the news for a far more personal reason: He publicly came out as gay. 

“We say our goals out loud,” Cunningham told the New York Times Monday, explaining a technique he has relied upon in his training as an elite athlete. “If there’s something we want to achieve, we say it. Putting something in words makes it real.”

His sexuality isn’t exactly a secret. Cunningham came out to his parents and friends by phone five years ago at age 20. 

“It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done,” he told the Times, recalling that he found himself dripping with sweat as he waited for the ringing to end and for the calls to be connected. 

Cunningham revealed to the newspaper that he got the sense that at least some of his friends were not at all surprised by this news, and had been “waiting for me,” he said. “I was really lucky to have a group of people who did not care.”

He was in college then, starting to “explore the idea” of his sexual attraction. 

“It took me awhile to know it felt right,” he said. 

His high school years in Winfield, Ala., were a time for friends and fun, dreaming of playing pro basketball with the Boston Celtics before discovering he enjoyed “flinging myself at solid objects at high speed,” he said. It was not a place conducive to dating other boys. 

Cunningham recalled his hometown as “rural, quite conservative, quite religious: The sort of place where you did not want to be the gay kid at school,” he told the paper. “So, I had certain expectations of what my life would look like, and it took me a little while to get my head around it, looking different to that.”

So, it was not a surprise that his parents gave him some “pushback” — in his words — when he called them with the news five years ago. 

“They had certain expectations for their little boy, for what his life would be like, and that’s OK,” he told the Times. “I gave them a 5-year grace period. I had to take my time. They could take theirs, too.” 

Cunningham drew a parallel between his own process and theirs. “What was true for me was also true for my parents,” said the world-class sprinter. 

And he is world-class, even if he’ll be watching the Summer Games instead of competing in them. As the Times reported, Cunningham is ranked 11th in the world. In 2022, he won the silver medal in high hurdles at the world championships in Eugene, Ore., and last month he placed ninth in the 110-meter hurdles at the U.S. Olympic trials. 

“If you do well in the U.S. trials, you know you have a good shot at a medal,” he said.

Following his disappointing finish in what he described as a “stacked field” of competitors, he is coming out as gay in an interview with a journalist now because everyone who he feels needs to know has known for some time, he said. Also, he recognizes that being out is still rare. 

“There are lots of people who are in this weird space,” said Cunningham. “They’re not out. But it is kind of understood.”

What he hopes is that both sports and the wider world will someday get to a place where “people do not have to ‘come out,” he said, where people can “just get on with being them.”

In addition to being an elite athlete, Cunningham has a Master of Science degree from Florida State University, a deal with Adidas and — with his scruffy square jaw and pouty lips — he is a sought-after Ford model.

He said in the interview that he realized coming out comes with practical and potentially financial considerations: Competing in countries where being gay is a crime, like Qatar. Although he doesn’t think hiding his sexuality inhibited his performance or that some great weight is now lifted, he believes being public about it has value.

There are times, Cunningham said, when it pays to say something out loud, to make things real. This is that time. 

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Transgender nonbinary runner Nikki Hiltz makes Team USA

‘Woke up an Olympian’

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(Screenshot)

They ran like the wind, broke the tape at the finish line, and clutched their chest with the broadest smile on their face. Then Nikki Hiltz collapsed to the track, having set a new record in the 1,500-meter race at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials and earned a spot on Team USA. 

As the realization sank in that they would be representing the U.S. in Paris as an out transgender nonbinary athlete, what the Paris-bound Olympian did next was to scribble a message of LGBTQ representation on the last day of Pride Month, writing with a red marker upon the glass of the camera that records each athlete’s signature on a whiteboard: 

“I ❤️ the gays,” they wrote, and above it, they signed their first name. 

Hiltz, 29, finished the race on Sunday at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field in first-place with a final time of 3:55:33, breaking third-place finisher Elle St. Pierre’s 2021 record of 3:58:03. 

Hiltz credited St. Pierre, the top-finishing American and third-place finisher in the women’s 1,500 at the Tokyo Olympics, with motivated them and the other competitors to race faster. With a first lap time of 61 seconds, St. Pierre led the race for the majority of its duration. St. Pierre and Emily Mackay, who placed second, also both earned spots in the Paris Olympics.

“If someone would have told me this morning that 3:56 doesn’t make the team, I don’t want to know that. I’m just in the race to run it and race it and that’s what I did,” Hiltz said after the race. The Santa Cruz native who came out in 2021 as trans nonbinary told NBC Sports that the accomplishment is “bigger than just me.”

“I wanted to run this for my community,” Hiltz said, “All of the LGBT folks, yeah, you guys brought me home that last hundred. I could just feel the love and support.” 

On Monday, Hiltz reflected on the race and how they became an Olympian in a post on Instagram.

“Woke up an Olympian. 🥹 Yesterday afternoon in Eugene Oregon a childhood dream of mine came true. I’m not sure when this will fully sink in … All I know is today I’m waking up just so grateful for my people, overwhelmed by all the love and support, and filled with joy that I get to race people I deeply love and respect around a track for a living. 🙏”

Hiltz also shared a photo with their girlfriend, runner Emma Gee, and captioned it: “Remember in Inside Out 2 when Joy says “maybe this is what happens when you grow up … you feel less joy”? Yeah I actually have no idea what she’s talking about. 🎈🌈🤠🦅🥐🇫🇷”

They shared photos in their new Team USA garb, too. 

While they will be the first out trans nonbinary member of the U.S. track and field team, Hiltz will not be the first nonbinary Olympian. That honor goes to Quinn, who played soccer for Canada in Tokyo and holds the record as the only nonbinary athlete to have won a gold medal. So far. 

Many of the posts by Hiltz, Team USA and others have been trolled by bigots and ignoramuses who have mistaken them for a trans woman who was presumed to be male at birth and transitioned genders. Right-wing outlets and anti-trans activist Riley Gaines have commented on their victory and questioned their gender identity and decision to compete against cisgender women. 

But in the spirit of the late Marsha P. Johnson, who famously said the “P” stood for “pay no mind” to the haters, Hiltz shared a photo of a handwritten motivational note to themself, which ends: “I saw a quote online the other week that said, ‘respect everybody, fear nobody,’ and that’s exactly how I’m going to approach this final. I can do this.” 

And they did. 

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