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Meet 2 couples sharing their lives and a love of sports

Rowing, swimming offer friendly competition and a common bond

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same-sex couples, gay news, Washington Blade

On left, Sheila and Gretchen O’Sullivan are members of the DC Strokes Rowing Club. On right, Fred Dever and Eric Czander met on the DC Aquatics team. (Photos courtesy of the couples)

Many of the LGBT sports teams in D.C. count same-sex couples as members of their clubs. Some joined the team together and others became a couple after first being teammates.

Meet two LGBT couples who have woven sports into the lives they are sharing. Not only are they benefitting their own health and well-being, they are sharing it with their partner.

Sheila O’Sullivan grew up in Novi, Mich., where soccer was her sport of choice. She attended high school in England and added rowing as her spring sport.

Back in the States, she graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut in 2000. She coached rowing on Sammamish Lake in Washington before heading to grad school at Carnegie Mellon University.

Canonsburg, Pa. was home to Gretchen O’Sullivan where she played softball and tennis in high school. She attended Allegheny College and was a member of the orchestra. A stint with AmeriCorps was followed by grad school at Carnegie Mellon.

The pair became a couple after meeting at grad school in Pittsburgh. Sheila would graduate first in 2007 and leave to work with the Peace Corps before moving to D.C. in 2009 where she joined the club program of the DC Strokes Rowing Club.

“After she left I joined the learn to row program with Three Rivers Rowing in Pittsburgh,” says Gretchen. “It was all because of Sheila. I never would have thought of rowing otherwise.”

Gretchen came to D.C. the following year and started with the DC Strokes novice program. She eventually joined Sheila in the club program and they often ended up in the same boat.

“She would get frustrated with me, but the overall experience was great,” says Sheila. “It’s great being outside and working as a team. We met our core group of friends with the Strokes and even if we are not rowing, they remain in our lives.”

“She was only trying to help me when we were in a boat together, but it was sometimes stressful,” Gretchen says. “Otherwise it was wonderful and there was great energy. Our drives back and forth to practice were always fun.”

Life started getting in the way for the pair and they began swapping rowing seasons to be supportive of who had the time to row. There was work, a new puppy, a new house, and they got married in the spring of 2013.

Both were competing in regattas – Sheila moved up to the competitive program and rowed at Stonewall, Charm City Sprints and the Head of the Hooch in Tennessee; Gretchen at the 2014 Gay Games in Cleveland where she won medals of each color.

Gretchen was trying to get pregnant in 2015 which meant that it was Sheila’s turn to row again. Their baby was born in late 2016 and Sheila started training for a new job with the Park Police. Gretchen is working as a site coordinator with a national nonprofit. Both are currently not rowing but are itching to get back in the boat.

“I really wanted to stay involved, so I am serving on the DC Strokes board as secretary,” says Gretchen. “Rowing is really for everyone and you can adapt it to your own needs. I would love for her to row again and I also see it for myself on the horizon.”

“I love that it is something you can come back to at any age and I am inspired by rowers that are older,” Sheila says. “Rowing is a passion of mine and it will be a lifetime sport for me.”

Syracuse, N.Y. native Fred Dever grew up competing in swimming and water polo through high school. He was an NCAA Division I swimmer at Marist College for four years and captained in his final year. On the side, he lifeguarded and coached swimming and water polo.

His work in pharmaceutical sales brought him to D.C. in 1995 and he was reluctant to join DC Aquatics Club because he didn’t think a gay team would be serious.

“I joined the team in 2002 and it was great getting back into organized workouts and making new friends,” says Fred. “It’s super rewarding, competitive, and everything you can wish for as a gay athlete.”

Eric Czander started swimming year around at age nine while growing up in Westfield, N.J. He swam for four years as an NCAA Division I athlete at Vanderbilt University. His education continued at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and Emory University School of Medicine for his Neurology residency.

He signed on for five years in the Navy hoping that the military lifestyle would prevent him from coming out. Before his duty began, he joined masters swimming and helped form a gay team in Atlanta where he came out in 1993. His last two years in the military brought him to D.C. where he joined DC Aquatics in 1998.

Fred and Eric met on the team and have spent the last 16 years sharing their lives with a healthy dose of swimming, triathlons and running.

“It helps with motivation to have someone to go to practice with and just having someone by your side,” says Eric. “It’s nice to be able to bounce things off each other. We are each other’s biggest motivator and biggest critic.”

“I like the way it feels having sports in our lives,” Fred says. “I would be a slacker if it wasn’t for Eric. He is much more driven than I am.”

Fred and Eric are the same age and compete in the same age group in swimming, though not in the same events. They are also of the same ability and purposefully don’t train in the same lane at practice.

“There is a little competitiveness in practice even though we don’t swim the same events,” Eric says. “Never harmful though, always healthy. Both of us have grown and learned from each other.”

“Sometimes I just want my own space, so I can be silly with our other teammates,” adds Fred.

In addition to competitive swimming, Fred and Eric have also completed running marathons and triathlons together. Eric had been competing in them for years before meeting Fred and brought him into the sports.

“My first marathon in D.C. was cancelled and Eric pushed me to run the St. Louis Marathon,” says Fred. “We always make sure the other one is safe in our races. Someone died in a recent open water race we were in and I ended up in the medical tent at the Boston Marathon. Each race starts with “I love you, be safe.”’

“When he started doing road running and triathlons, I was beating him at first and then he started beating me,” says Eric. “We try not to race next to each other, but our times are very similar. It’s good motivation.”

Coming up for the pair is a trip to Paris for Gay Games X in August where they both will be swimming eight events in the pool.

“Swimming is all about family and connections,” Fred says. “Our DC Aquatics teammates are our family.”

“It’s awesome to explore new cities and cultures together,” Eric says. “Plus, I can’t wait for Fred to butcher the French language.”

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National

Federal judge temporarily blocks anti-trans youth sports law in Indiana

The injunction requires that A.M., a 10 -year-old trans girl, must be allowed to rejoin her school’s all-girls softball team

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On Tuesday Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana issued an preliminary injunction that blocked an Indiana law that prevents trans youth from playing on sports teams that match their gender identity.

The injunction requires that A.M., a 10 -year-old trans girl, must be allowed to rejoin her school’s all-girls softball team while litigation continues.  

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a lawsuit in April, on behalf of A.M., challenging House Enrolled Act 1041, which bans transgender girls from participating in school sports. 

Ken Falk, legal director at the ACLU of Indiana, issued the following statement: 

“When misinformation about biology and gender is used to bar transgender girls from school sports it amounts to the same form of sex discrimination that has long been prohibited under Title IX, a law that protects all students – including trans people – on the basis of sex.  

“We are pleased that Judge Magnus-Stinson has recognized this and required that A.M. be allowed to play on her school’s softball team.  

“If other students are being denied the right to join a sports team at their school due to their transgender status, we encourage them to contact the ACLU of Indiana immediately.” 

This past May, the Indiana Legislature had voted to overturn Republican Governor Eric Holcomb’s March veto of HB 1041, a measure that bans transgender girls from competing on girls’ K-12 sports teams in the state.

The vote to override the veto means that this law makes Indiana the 8th state to ban trans youth from playing sports in 2022 by legislative action — and the 16th in the country.

In his veto message sent to House Speaker Todd Huston’s office, Holcomb said the bill presumed a problem already existed that required the state to intervene and it implied the goals of consistency and fairness in girls’ sports were not being met.

“After thorough review, I find no evidence to support either claim even if I support the overall goal,” Holcomb wrote.

“Governor Holcomb was the second governor this year to uphold the dignity of transgender and nonbinary youth, and veto an attempt by lawmakers to write them out of existence. While those young people continue to face unrelenting political attacks, the Indiana legislature voted to override his act of courage and compassion, pushing these marginalized youth even further to the sidelines,” said Sam Ames, Director of Advocacy and Government Affairs at The Trevor Project.

“This bill claimed to solve a problem of ‘fairness’ in school sports in Indiana that didn’t exist, but its negative impacts on the mental health and well-being of trans and nonbinary youth — young people who already face disproportionate rates of bullying, depression, and suicide — are very real. To the young people in Indiana watching tonight: you are stronger than they know. We are here for you, we will fight for you, and we are not going anywhere.”

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Sports

DC Commanders notch Pride Bowl victory

Local teams ‘overcome some difficulties’ to score wins

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The DC Commanders won their championship game 8-0 last month. (Photo courtesy DCGFFL)

Pride Bowl XIV was contested in Chicago in late June drawing more than 800 players from across the country. The annual tournament featured 32 teams in the Open Division and 12 teams in the Women’s Division.

For the DC Gay Flag Football League (DCGFFL) travel teams, it marked their second tournament of the year having previously competed in the Florida Sunshine Cup XI in February.

The DCGFFL sent five travel teams consisting of more than 80 athletes to Chicago – three teams in the Open Division and two teams in the Women’s Division. 

Each team was guaranteed four games in bracket play with the winners moving on to the semifinals. The DC Admirals, Washington Generals, DC Commanders, and DC Senators Black all advanced to compete in the final four.

The DC Commanders would go on to win their championship game 8-0, defeating the Austin Capitals in the Open B2 Bracket. They scored early in the game and held off their opponent over two 30-minute halves in a tough defensive battle.

Three players from the DCGFFL travel teams were selected to the Pride Bowl All-Tournament Team – Drew Crane of the Washington Generals, Matan Showstack of the DC Commanders, and Derrick Johnson of the Washington Generals.

Clay Arnold has been on the DC Commanders’ travel team for six years and has captained since 2018. This year will mark the first full travel season post-COVID for the players who will also be traveling to Honolulu for Gay Bowl XXII in October.

“We have overcome some difficulties to get back to taking the majority of our players to tournaments, including securing enough money to pay for jerseys,” says Arnold. “The Commanders brought five players who had never traveled and it’s great having new talent.”

There was a special meaning for Arnold in the win, as it brought reflections of his teammate, John Boyd, who passed in 2020.

“We played on the same field where John threw his first touchdown pass as a quarterback,” Arnold says. “It was a great punctuation mark, and I was joyous for many reasons.”

Arnold points to the travel experience as a tight-knit community filled with amazing people, lifelong friends, and an elevated level of competition.

“Several years ago we didn’t compete well and ended up skipping the closing events to lick our wounds at a local dive bar in Chicago,” Arnold says. “We have returned to that same bar every year and are welcomed with open arms. Sharing that quality time with your teammates and the next generation of players is what keeps me coming back.”

Nikki Kasparek founded the DCGFFL’s first women’s travel team, DC Senators, in 2014 with Gay Bowl XIV being their first tournament.

Pride Bowl marked another first for the players as two DCGFFL women’s travel teams competed in the tournament – DC Senators Black and DC Senators Red.

“It was exciting having a second team there and it gave us a built-in cheering section,” says Kasparek. “The group of women on our second team energized all of us and everyone put in significant playing time. The Red team was captained by two veterans and the rest of the players were all rookies.”

The DCGFFL has experienced significant growth in women’s players over the past two seasons with 35 women currently playing in the leagues.

Kasparek, who has a wife and two kids at home, says she is very tied to the Senators and the DCGFFL and is excited about all of the new players.

“I am incredibly competitive and the DCGFFL leagues and travel tournaments allow me to scratch that itch,” Kasparek says. “I am going to enjoy all of it – the friendships, the seasons, the tournaments, the moments – until I can’t flex that muscle anymore.”

Along with the increase in women’s players, the DCGFFL has picked up over 100 new players in the past two seasons. Logan Dawson was recently elected as the new commissioner and also played for the Commanders at Pride Bowl.

“Traveling is a great opportunity to bond with your teammates and compete with the best players from all the cities in attendance,” says Dawson. “It is a higher level of competition than our league play and offers our players an experience that will improve their skill set.”

The DCGFFL has been using the DC Commanders name for many years and have no plans to change it because of the recent name change of the NFL’s Washington Commanders.

“We like the connection and for the first time ever, members of the DC Commanders and the DCGFFL marched side-by-side with members of the Washington Commanders’ organization in the Capital Pride parade this year,” Dawson says. “We will also have interaction with them at their Pride Night this September.”

Registration is now open for Season XXIII of the DCGFFL. Coming up for their travel teams are Beach Bowl 2022 and Gay Bowl XXII.

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Arts & Entertainment

Lia Thomas nominated for the 2022 NCAA Woman of the Year award

The former University of Pennsylvania swimmer has been the center of national debate about transgender athletes in sports.

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Lia Thomas, the first transgender woman who has earned a national title in Division 1 athletics, was nominated by the University of Pennsylvania for the 2022 NCAA Woman of the Year award. The former University of Pennsylvania swimmer has been the center of national debate about transgender athletes in sports.

The NCAA Woman of the Year Award was established to honor senior female student-athletes who demonstrate excelling performances in academics, athletics and community services at college.

In March, Thomas, joined the women’s swimming team after competing against men for three years, became the first transgender woman to have a national title in Division 1. She finished the 500-yard freestyle event in the fastest time recorded in the NCAA season. 

However, such attention-drawing performances also brought Thomas to the heated debate over whether transgender women should compete with cisgender women.

In February, sixteen of Thomas’ teammates wrote an unsigned letter to Penn and Ivy League officials, and pointed out that Thomas held biologically “unfair advantages.” 

In March, conservative Christian organization Concerned Women for American (CWA) filed a lawsuit against University of Pennsylvania, stating by allowing Thomas to compete UPenn failed to protect the rights of other college female athletes.

“The future of women’s sports is at risk and the equal rights of female athletes are being infringed,” said Penny Nance, CEO and President of Concerned Women for America, in a CWA statement.  

“Any school that defies federal civil rights law by denying women equal opportunities in athletic programs, forcing women to compete against athletes who are biologically male must be held accountable.”

Last month, the International Swimming Federation (FINA) approved the new policy to bar transgender athletes from competitions consistent with their gender identity, unless they can prove that “they have not experienced any part of male puberty beyond Tanner Stage 2 or before age 12, whichever is later.”

Similarly, USA Swimming, the national governing body for competitive swimming, adopted a more restrictive policy requiring transgender women to prove that the concentration of testosterone in their blood was less than 5 nanomoles per liter for 36 consecutive months or more. 

The NCAA is currently reviewing the new policy but hasn’t adopted it yet.

In total 18 states have enacted laws banning transgender athletes from sports consistent with their gender identity, and around 30% transgender athletes are accordingly affected.

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