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Blade All Stars spotlight: ballroom dancers enjoy training, competition

Duo brought home three medals from ’18 Paris Gay Games



competitive dancesport, gay news, Washington Blade
Allesandro Ghidini (left) and Craig Louisy are off to a strong start a year into their training. (Photo courtesy Ghidini/Louisy)

This week in the Washington Blade’s All Star series, we shine a spotlight on two LGBT athletes who are navigating their way through the costumes, music and theatrics of competitive dancesport.

Growing up in Milan, Italy, Alessandro Ghidini was drawn to sports that involved water. He competed in swimming and water polo before joining the varsity Olympic kayaking team at the University of Milan.

His studies to become an obstetrician-gynecologist brought him to the United States where he attended Yale for five years along with a fellowship in New York.

After arriving in D.C. in 1994, he returned to the water as a rower with the D.C. Strokes Rowing Club. Looking for something new, Ghidini joined a group that gave instruction in American Style ballroom dancing.

“It was a good match for me. As a physician, I am trained for perfection and polish,” Ghidini says. “Dancing takes coordination, balance and an awareness of muscles. It’s very meticulous as is stitching up a patient.”

Two years ago, Ghidini met coach Terry Chasteen of DanceSport Dupont Circle and began training in the International Style of ballroom dancing. A plan was formed to compete in the 2018 Gay Games in Paris, but finding the right partner proved difficult.

Chasteen was line dancing with the D.C. Rawhides and spotted a possibility in the form of Craig Louisy. A partnership was formed with all dance training pointed toward competing in Paris.

Louisy grew up in Saint Lucia and played multiple sports including tennis, karate, basketball and volleyball. Looking for a better life and education, he arrived in the D.C. area to attend Howard University. After medical school at Temple University in Philadelphia, he returned to the area for stints at Washington Hospital Center and the University of Maryland at Baltimore.

Louisy accepted a position as a locum tenens surgeon (traveling surgeon) and spent the next several years traveling through Maryland, South Dakota, Hawaii and North Carolina.

“Traveling so much made me feel disconnected. I couldn’t forge any lasting friendships and I knew it was time to establish some roots,” Louisy says. “When I returned to D.C., I joined the D.C. Rawhides. I always imagined myself on a stage, but my medical career took me in a different direction. The thoughts of dancing and performing were still a part of me.”

Ghidini and Louisy secured their dance steps and began the long hours of training to perfect them under Chasteen’s watchful eye. Not all dancesport competitions accept same-sex couples, so they selected welcoming competitions in Bethesda, New York and Columbus as tune-ups for Paris.

“The competitions were fun, challenging and brought out my competitive side,” Louisy says. “DanceSport has dusted off different parts of my brain and has given me the exact thing I was looking for — social interaction and fun.”

The pair arrived at the Paris Gay Games last August ready for their moment to perform on the international stage. They were entered in the Standard (waltz, tango and quick-step) and Latin (rhumba, jive and cha cha) categories.

When the dust settled, they had captured two silver medals and a bronze.

“It was such a sense of accomplishment after a year of practicing our steps and thinking about shoes, costumes and details,” Ghidini says. “The parade of athletes at the Gay Games opening ceremonies blew me away. Seeing athletes from anti-LGBT countries such as Cuba and Algeria brought tears to my eyes. I had family members there, including my husband, cheering us on. We were interviewed by French television stations and I felt so welcome.”

Louisy agrees. 

“It was everything I imagined it would be — an international convening of the LGBT community. It was a very positive environment and you could feel the energy of it,” Louisy says. “It made me proud to be gay and athletic; like I was exposing it to the world that our community comes in all shapes, sizes and colors. It felt important, like I was doing my civic duty.”

With such a great experience behind them, the pair are now training for the upcoming EuroGames in July in Rome.

“After losing our virginity in regard to competing in international sports, I am totally game to keep this going,” Ghidini says. “But it takes two to tango.”

Louisy says he’s in it for the long haul. 

“We made a lot of friends from other countries and learned techniques from each other,” Louisy says. “It has given me structure and resulted in only positive things.”



Put this out gay trailblazer’s supportive coach in your bracket

‘Coach Willard’s awesome,’ says Derrick Gordon of Maryland’s Kevin Willard



Kevin Willard is not just a seasoned coach, but a strong LGBTQ ally. (Screen capture via Inside the Hall YouTube)

When the 8th seeded Maryland Terrapins faced off against No. 1 Alabama in the second round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championships last weekend, it wasn’t just the players on the hardwood who were working hard for the win. Nate Oats coached the Crimson Tide to a 73-51 victory less than an hour from their home court. And on the other side was Kevin Willard, who is not just a seasoned coach, but a strong LGBTQ ally. 

Willard was Derrick Gordon’s coach at Seton Hall when he transferred from UMass in 2015, a year after he came out as the first out gay Division I Men’s basketball player in the NCAA. 

Gordon has credited Willard with creating a comfortable environment, after he “bumped heads” with former UMass coach Derek Kellogg during his two seasons with the Minutemen. In contrast, he said he instantly connected with Willard, and told his teammates and Willard following his final season at Seton Hall that he wished he had another year of eligibility remaining. He’s said he considered Willard the best coach he’d ever played for.

“He just made it comfortable for me,” Gordon told Glenn Clark Radio in an interview broadcast on March 22, 2022. “He said, ‘You know what, we’re more focused on who you are as a person and a basketball player and what you bring to the team.’ He voiced that over and over again. When I went on my visit, I just felt even more comfortable, met a couple of the guys. They made me feel right at home as well, so it was kind of like an easy decision. Coach Willard’s awesome. He’s an amazing guy.”

If you don’t believe Gordon, ask the West Virginia Mountaineers, who lost to the Terrapins in the first round 67-65. Maryland’s win “took the paint off the floor at Legacy Arena” in Birmingham, Ala., as Brendan Quinn wrote in The Athletic. He described Willard’s style of coaching this way:

“Willard paced the sideline, as he does. The man is intense. Doesn’t suffer fools. Serious stuff. No BS. Black eyes screwed deep in a bald head, no pupils. He regards things sideways, incredulous toward anyone who doesn’t come correct. It’s his whole thing. If Guy Ritchie cast a college basketball coach, it’d be Willard.” 

Gordon told Glenn Clark Radio that he particularly recalled the kind of support Willard gave him in one practice early in his Seton Hall career, according to Press Box Online.

“I remember a particular situation that happened in practice — came down the court and I was wide open and I didn’t shoot it,” Gordon said in the 2022 interview. “[Willard] stopped practice and he said, ‘You’re not at [UMass] anymore. I trust you. I believe in you. Shoot the ball.’ Ever since then, my confidence was through the roof, especially dealing with I had to deal with when I was at UMass with that coach to playing under Coach Willard and him telling me that specifically, he just let me play my game.”

Last July, Gordon posted on Instagram that after playing a few seasons in Europe for Cyprus and Germany, “I decided to end my career as a professional athlete.”

Gordon is now 31, and he told his followers he is working on a book about his life “on and off the court,” in hopes he might “help gay young people, student athletes in particular and others who are struggling to pursue careers in professional sports or any career paths they chose without fear or shame.” 

Since Christmas, he’s been sharing posts that include photos with his boyfriend, actor Scott Backman of Los Angeles, including one from last week, captioned: “Every time we’re together, it’s like falling in love all over again.”

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Brittney Griner to return to WNBA

Russia released Phoenix Mercury star in December in prisoner swap



Brittney Griner upon her release from Russian custody on Dec. 8, 2022. She has signed a one-year contract with the WNBA. (Screen capture via Russian State Media)

For the first time since 2021, Brittney Griner will be back on the hardwood for the Phoenix Mercury when the WNBA season kicks off in May. But it won’t be at home. Her first game is on the road, facing the Los Angeles Sparks. 

Griner, who regained her freedom in December 2022 in a prisoner swap between Russia and the United States, signed a one year contract on Saturday worth $165,100, according to ESPN

The 32-year-old missed the entire 2022 season following her arrest in Moscow one year ago. Russian authorities said she broke their law by packing vape canisters with cabbabis oil in her luggage. In August, Griner was sentenced to nine years in a penal colony for drug smuggling, and that sentence was upheld upon appeal in October

“Following a sham trial and the unjust sentencing of Brittney Griner, Moscow is transferring her from a prison in Moscow to a remote penal colony,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken back in November. “It is another injustice layered on her ongoing unjust and wrongful detention.” 

After months of negotiations and protests led by her wife, Cherelle, and advocacy groups including the National LGBTQ Task Force, the WNBA star was exchanged in the United Arab Emirates for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. He had served 10 years of a 25-year sentence for conspiring to sell weapons to a terrorist group. Russia balked at the Biden administration’s request to secure the release of businessman and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who is still serving a 16-year prison sentence in Russia for spying.

As ESPN reported, Griner will be playing her 10th season since first being drafted by the Mercury in 2013. Her last year on the court was one of the best of her career, in which she averaged 20.5 points, 1.9 blocks, 2.7 assists, and career-highs with 9.5 rebounds per game, 2.4 offensive rebounds and a .846 free throw percentage.

The Mercury open their 2023 season against the Sparks at the Arena on May 19. The team’s first home game is May 21 when Phoenix hosts the Chicago Sky.

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New York Rangers forgo Pride jerseys and stick tape for team Pride night

NYC Pride organizers responded to omission



Out Broadway star and actor Michael James Scott prepares to sing the National Anthem at the opening of the NY Rangers Pride Night 2023. (Photo Credit: The New York Rangers/NHL)

New York LGBTQ Rangers fans were disappointed after the National Hockey League team forwent wearing the team’s special warm-up jerseys and using Pride stick tape during the team’s 7th annual Pride Night Friday.

The Rangers had promoted Friday night’s Madison Square Garden home game against Vegas Golden Knights, saying players “will be showing their support by donning pride-themed warm-up jerseys and tape in solidarity with those who continue to advocate for inclusivity.”  But ultimately the team wore their “Liberty Head” jerseys in warmups instead.

After the game, a 4-1 win over the Vegas Golden Knights, the Rangers released a statement: “Our organization respects the LGBTQ+ community and we are proud to bring attention to important local community organizations as part of another great Pride Night. In keeping with our organization’s core values, we support everyone’s individual right to respectfully express their beliefs.”

In an emailed statement to the Washington Blade Sunday Dan Dimant, media director for NYC Pride | Heritage of Pride, Inc. said:

“In recent years, numerous National Hockey League (NHL) franchises including the New York Rangers have introduced a series of ‘Pride Nights’ to engage the LGBTQ+ community. NYC Pride has been honored to take part in these celebrations, including as recently as last night at Madison Square Garden.

NYC Pride was not made aware in advance of our participation in last night’s ceremonial puck drop that Pride jerseys and rainbow tape would not be worn as advertised. We understand and appreciate that this has been a major disappointment to the LGBTQ+ community in New York and beyond. We are communicating these concerns with NY Rangers and NHL leadership as we continue to discuss the ways these organizations can work toward inclusion.

NYC Pride has a duty to both support our partners and hold them accountable. We are committed to continuing our relationships with the NY Rangers and the NHL and maintaining substantive dialogue with them about meaningful allyship with the LGBTQ+ community.”

ESPN reported that the team’s annual Pride Night was celebrated throughout the game in other ways. Fans were given a pride-themed fanny pack as a giveaway. The exterior and interior lights at Madison Square Garden were illuminated in rainbow colors. The Rangers also made a charitable donation to the Ali Forney Center on Pride Night, the largest agency dedicated to LGBTQ homeless youths in the country.

ESPN noted that Andre Thomas, co-chair of NYC Pride and Heritage of Pride, participated in the ceremonial puck drop.
(Photo Credit: The New York Rangers/NHL)

The Rangers’ Pride Night was held 10 days after Ivan Provorov, the alternate captain for the National Hockey League’s Philadelphia Flyers, opted out of participating in the team’s Pride Night charity event before the game Tuesday, claiming a religious exemption based on his Russian Orthodox faith.

Provorov, 26, was the only member of the Flyers to not take part in the pre-game exercise on the ice. A video tweeted by the team’s official account shows the rest of the players wore special Pride Night-themed black jerseys with the traditional Flyers logo on the front and rainbow-colored names and numbers on the back; many of the players practiced using hockey sticks wrapped in rainbow-colored tape known as Pride tape. Both the sticks and the jerseys were auctioned off after the game with the Anaheim Ducks, to raise money for local LGBTQ charities. 

The defenseman, who was born in Russia, told reporters after their victory, “I respect everybody and respect everybody’s choices,” adding that he declined to take part in the warmup “to stay true to myself and my religion.” 

After Provorov opted out of participating in the Flyer’s Pride Night charity event the NHL put out a statement that said players can decide which team and league initiatives to support.

“Hockey is for Everyone is the umbrella initiative under which the league encourages Clubs to celebrate the diversity that exists in their respective markets, and to work to achieve more welcoming and inclusive environments for all fans,” the league said. “Clubs decide whom to celebrate, when and how — with League counsel and support. Players are free to decide which initiatives to support, and we continue to encourage their voices and perspectives on social and cultural issues.”

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