This week in the Washington Blade All-Star series, we catch up with two globetrotting LGBT athletes who have settled in with the Washington Wetskins water polo team.
Growing up in Prince Georges County, Kevin Iredell found organized sports daunting but still participated in soccer, lacrosse and swimming.
After receiving his undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland, he attended graduate school at Tulane University where he joined the water polo team. His sports path was put on hold when he signed up for a two-year stint with the Peace Corps.
Living in a tiny village in Burkina Faso with no electricity or water, Iredell served as a health officer fostering social and behavioral change. His days were spent going door-to-door providing testing and medication for malaria.
Next up for Iredell was a backpacking adventure through Belgium, Netherlands and France in the Workaway program where he lived with and worked for local families in each of the countries.
He was starting to get antsy to settle down and began researching gay sports in D.C. while he was still living in Europe. After arriving back in the area in April 2018, he joined the Washington Wetskins.
“I wanted something that was not like the other sports offered and water polo is definitely different,” says Iredell. “It is extremely important for the LGBT community to have safe spaces outside of the bar scene. For those spaces to be focused on sports is unique and very much needed.”
Iredell has also started a new job and is working as a business manager in international development of health projects. His introductory tournament with the Wetskins was at their hosted Fall Invitational in D.C. last October. It was his first step back into competitive sports.
“It was pretty intimidating at first – whistles blowing, referees, teammates – but then it became comfortable,” Iredell says. “The sense of community is so strong with the Wetskins. We practice three days a week and I always run into teammates outside of the pool. It’s very close-knit.”
Iredell traveled with his teammates to a tournament in Toronto last April and recently returned from competing at the International Gay & Lesbian Aquatics world championships in New York City which coincided with World Pride.
The Wetskins sent 30 players and fielded two full teams for the multi-day tournament.
“After meeting a lot of players from the IGLA community in Toronto, it was a blast to see them all again in New York City,” says Iredell. “The LGBT sports community is special, and I am happy to be involved in it.”
Kevin Dibb grew up in Long Beach, Calif., and spent seven years in karate with his brother and sister. Long Beach is a water polo mecca in the United States, and he began playing the sport at age nine.
He came out at age 14 and then to his teammates on the high school water polo team in his sophomore year. He spent his junior year living with a host family in Belgium.
After high school, he used his gap year to log a second senior year of high school in the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange in Wuppertal, Germany.
Dibb’s undergrad work was at University of California, Santa Barbara where he was a member of their club triathlon team. He spent the first six months of his senior year in Moscow.
“Russia had just invaded Crimea and I was living in an international dorm. It was a crazy six months – super awkward,” says Dibb. “I was dating even though everything there is anti-gay. They have an active LGBT culture, but it is all underground.”
His completed his grad work at the University of Colorado, Boulder where he spent one year in Boulder and one year in Regensburg, Germany. While in Germany, he played on an underwater rugby team.
A six-month fellowship with the German Parliament brought Dibb to D.C. in December of 2017. He is now employed by the cultural program at Goethe-Institut Washington working with German-American relations.
While looking to find a club sports team in D.C., he decided to return to water polo and joined the Wetskins.
“I already had a solid background in water polo, and it was fun to jump back into something I knew well,” Dibb says. “It has worked out great I have really clicked with my teammates.”
Dibb’s first meet with the Wetskins was the Toronto tournament in April and he is glad to be back in the sport.
“It was so fun – my first time competing in water polo in ten years,” says Dibb. “It is a cool community and it has hooked me into being involved in other LGBT activities like Petworth Social Club.”
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
“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.”
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”
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.
USA Swimming Official and SHERO Cynthia Millen said enough is enough and resigned!— Save Women’s Sports (@SaveWomensSport) December 28, 2021
How can you take a stand against the erasure of women’s sports?
The time to act is NOW! #SaveWomensSports https://t.co/2VHXZzW7O0
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