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West Hollywood Aquatics doc slated for D.C. screening

‘Light in the Water’ follows gay swimmers during AIDS tragedy

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West Hollywood Aquatics, gay news, Washington Blade
Jack Markey, Jim Ballard and Jon Bauer at the Team New York Aquatics training camp in Palm Springs last week. (Photo by Kevin Majoros)

After the inaugural Gay Games in 1982, a group of gay athletes from West Hollywood formed a swim team and water polo team that would eventually be renamed West Hollywood Aquatics. It was the same year that AIDS surfaced in the gay community and it became part of the teams.

With their teammates dying around them, the athletes rose above the darkness using the power of sports and community to build a foundation that many of them are still leaning on today.

The film “Light in the Water” debuted with a shortened version on the Logo Network last June to critical acclaim. It chronicles the journey of the West Hollywood teams and offers a glimpse of what it was like to be gay and an athlete in the 1980s.

Not only is it a story about swimming, water polo and the HIV/AIDS crisis, it is a story about hope, perseverance and the battle for acceptance.

“Swimming helped because in a way, it was a distraction,” says West Hollywood swimmer Jim Ballard in the film. “If you could swim, you could live. Or at least you were alive for that moment. At one point in time, there was a funeral every week.”

After the Logo debut, “Light in the Water” began running a different, longer version at film festivals and screenings all over the world. Just two weeks ago, the film picked up a Daytime Emmy nomination from its screening on Logo. 

It will be screened in Washington (but is sold out) on Thursday, April 11 at 7:30 p.m. at AMC Georgetown 14. The event is being co-hosted by LGBT-based District of Columbia Aquatics Club. A panel discussion will follow. 

Appearing on the panel will be director Lis Bartlett, cast member Charlie Carson from Team New York Aquatics and Jack Markey, co-founder of District of Columbia Aquatics Club. Both Carson and Markey were also at the swim training camp last week which is hosted annually by LGBT-based Team New York Aquatics.

Bartlett moved to Los Angeles in 2011 to pursue filmmaking. A swimmer since middle school, she chose LGBT-based West Hollywood Aquatics over the many straight teams in the area to continue her swimming.

Over time, she began to realize the team was a microcosm for the city of Los Angeles. It made her think about what everyone has in common as athletes and what they share from the experience of exercising. 

She pitched the idea of a documentary with Nathan Santell, a film producer and West Hollywood swimmer, and began the process of interviewing surviving long-time members.

“My first interview was with Jon Bauer and he really allowed himself to be vulnerable during our filming,” Bartlett says. “When I realized how powerful the team was for him during that time, I knew it was going to be a multi-layered project.”

Jon Bauer has been a member of the team since 1988 and was a pioneer as a dentist in Los Angeles for treating patients with AIDS. He reflects on that first interview with Bartlett.

“We were talking about swimming and then they shifted gears and asked about AIDS. I was ripe for the question,” Bauer says. “I was in the trenches as a dentist and it was overwhelming. I actually treated the very first person in Los Angeles that we are aware of that died from AIDS in 1978. We didn’t know why he died; he was very young and healthy and six months later he was gone. I have lost hundreds of patients, partners, my brother — there was a lot there and the question went deep.”

Both Bauer and Ballard are still swimming and reaping the benefits that result from being active and part of a greater community. Just last week they attended a seven day training camp in Palm Springs with 70 LGBT swimmers from around the country.

“The film is an exquisite opportunity to experience what we have been through and to bring up opportunities to heal. To relate that to healing from swimming and what exercise did for me, and to share that, was a gift,” Bauer says. “People want to be heard and to know that they have been seen. Lis and Nathan did an incredible job capturing stories and they reflect beautifully on every aspect of life.”

“These people who I swim with every day have been through so much, yet they are so joyful,” Bartlett says. “They have become my family and my community. I think the reason the film has resonated with different types of people is because it touches on the many things that we all have in common including loss, adversity, perseverance and hope.”

Tickets for Light in the Water can be purchased here.

The trailer for Light in the Water can be seen here.

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Carl Nassib returns to Tampa

Former Las Vegas Raiders defensive end came out as gay in June 2021

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Carl Nassib (Screenshot courtesy of YouTube/KUVV Fox 5 in Las Vegas)

Carl Nassib, who made headlines in June 2021 when he became the NFL’s first out gay active player, reportedly has signed a one-year contract with his former team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

The 29-year-old defensive end was released by the Las Vegas Raiders in March, and became a free agent. NFL sources said that was due to his contracted salary amount — $7.75 million — and not any reflection on his sexual orientation.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter broke the news with a tweet

When Nassib came out last summer, he announced he was donating $100,000 to the Trevor Project, and for Pride Month this year he made a new pledge to help LGBTQ youth. He promised to match donations to the Trevor Project, dollar for dollar, up to $100,000.

Will Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady welcome Nassib?

As Outsports reported, he’s never made any comments about playing with someone gay. Brady’s former New England Patriots teammate Ryan O’Callaghan recalled that before he came out in 2017, following his retirement, there was one time that he missed the team bus and Brady gave him a ride in his car to that day’s practice.

O’Callaghan told Outsports he believes Brady would have “absolutely” accepted him if he had come out at that time.

“Being married to a super model I’m sure he’s met a few gay people in his life,” said O’Callaghan.

Brady wed Brazilian fashion model Gisele Bündchen in 2009.

Legendary Boston sports columnist Steve Buckley of the Athletic came out as gay in 2011 while at the Boston Herald. He told Outsports that Brady has always been friendly and cooperative, even after Buckley came out.

This is the second time around at Raymond James Stadium for Nassib. He played for the Buccaneers for two seasons prior to joining the Raiders in 2020. His NFL career began in 2016 with the Cleveland Browns. 

As Jason Owens reported for Yahoo! Sports, Nassib was far more productive in Tampa as a part-time starter, recording 6.5 sacks in 2018 and six sacks in 2019. The NFL’s website shows he played just 242 defensive snaps and earned 1.5 sacks last season. 

In 86 games including 37 starts, Nassib’s recorded 22 career sacks, 164 tackles, 53 quarterback hits and four forced fumbles.

In addition to Brady, Nassib’s new teammates are Akiem Hicks and William Gholston at defensive end and outside linebackers Shaquil Barrett and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka. Given that the Buccaneers finished seventh in the NFL in sacks last season with 47, Nassib will be expected to improve Tampa Bay’s chances when their season begins on Sept. 11 in Dallas.

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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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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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