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Trans swimmer: ‘Why fight them when you can lead them’

Natalie Fahey on thriving in the NCAA

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Natalie Fahey, gay news, Washington Blade
‘I had a lot of self-pride in the fact that I stuck through all the adversity and didn’t quit the sport that I love,’ said Natalie Fahey. (Photo courtesy Fahey)

Two weeks before the start of the 2018 Mid-American Conference Men’s Swimming & Diving Championships, Natalie Fahey began taking hormones. It was her junior year at Southern Illinois University, and she was cutting it close to the championships so it wouldn’t affect her performance on the men’s swim team.

“Overall I was pretty happy with the way I swam, but I had a moment at the end of the conference meet. I knew I would never swim that fast again. It was bittersweet,” says Fahey. “I began to feel trepidation because I didn’t know what was coming next.”

What ended up coming next was Fahey’s transition and her becoming the first male to female swimmer to compete on an NCAA Division 1 team. It was a process that was supported by her teammates and her coach, Rick Walker.

Growing up in Waukesha, Wisc., Fahey was active in football, soccer, baseball and swimming. In her freshman year of high school, she was a starting right guard on the football team and ended up joining the cross-country team to compliment her swimming.

She made the varsity swim team her sophomore year and podiumed every year at the state swimming championships. She also went to the state championships in cross country.

“I really thought I was hot shit in high school,” Fahey says.
In the middle of her sports accomplishments, little things were popping up – indicators that would evolve over the next few years.

“I identified as a cis guy and my outlook was that I was going to question it, but not explore. I didn’t know what was happening,” says Fahey. “There was ongoing depression, but swimming kept me busy. It was my coping mechanism.”

Fahey flourished in the men’s swimming program under Coach Walker in her freshman year and dropped eight seconds in her 500 freestyle.

“It is a fantastic program and I started to see the fruits of my labor,” Fahey says. “I was working on every aspect of swimming and I was totally in love with all of it.”

One constant that accompanied her achievements in the pool were thoughts of transitioning. By her sophomore year, she began researching the NCAA rules on transgender athletes.

“There were so many variables to think about. I wanted to keep swimming, but I struggled to accept that I would get slower if I started taking hormones. It was also going to be very public,” says Fahey. “My swimming career was incongruent with transitioning. I kept wondering where I could squeeze in a year.”

The summer before her junior year, she painted her toenails for the first time and began asking friends to use she/her/hers pronouns. That fall, she spent a weekend with her parents in St. Louis before college move-in day and had a big announcement for them after a few beers at a local brewery.

“The words just came out – I’m trans, I’m a girl,” Fahey says. “They didn’t disown me, but it was uncomfortable. I did not go about it in a healthy way.”

Back in the pool for her junior year, Fahey tweaked her shoulder at a home meet before Thanksgiving. The injury only allowed for kicking during her swim training. For the first time, she had serious thoughts of quitting so she could begin transitioning.

“I pushed those thoughts back to the dark recesses of my mind,” says Fahey. “By Christmas break I decided to tell my coach; I want to transition, and I want to keep swimming.”

Coach Rick Walker assured Fahey that she wasn’t recruited for her times but for who she is as a person. Her spot on the men’s team was confirmed for her senior year.

That summer before her final year of NCAA eligibility, she started an internship in Indianapolis as an RV technician at a dealership and began experimenting with presenting as female.

“An RV dealership in Indiana isn’t the most comfortable place to present as a trans woman. There were shouts from cars – ‘You’re still a dude’,” Fahey says. “I am pretty thick-skinned and didn’t let it hit me hard.”

Fahey showed up for her senior year on the men’s team after six months of estrogen. She was out of shape, overweight and had lost a lot of strength from the hormones. She was competing on the men’s team in a women’s suit because of breast development.

“I swam slow at our first swim meet and went home and cried. I battled all season with not comparing myself to my previous self,” says Fahey. “It was a tough pill to swallow knowing I was never going to improve again.”

Fahey began focusing on other small victories – that feeling after a great workout, the team atmosphere, community events with her teammates and mentoring the incoming class of swimmers. She was able to rediscover her love for the sport of swimming.

Throughout the regular season, Fahey was competing with the men. At 6’2” tall, in a women’s suit, she was still showing male traits. She says she didn’t hear anything but positive remarks from teammates or opposing teams.

There was still one thing on her mind that she wanted to achieve before she completed her collegiate career.

“I had a lot of self-pride in the fact that I stuck through all the adversity and didn’t quit the sport that I love,” Fahey says. “Competing in just one meet on the women’s team would be a personal victory.”

After many discussions with her coach, it was decided that Fahey would compete at the 2019 Missouri Valley Conference Swimming and Diving Championships on the women’s team. Even though it would have been legal for her to score points (she had completed 12 months of estrogen), Fahey was entered as an exhibition swimmer.

“We decided that doing it that way would be the best course. It would have been a fight and I would have been called a cheater. Why fight them when you can lead them,” says Fahey. “I feel like I did a good job of introducing the NCAA to trans female swimming.”

Fahey is still living in Carbondale and has one semester left at Southern Illinois University. She has switched her major from mechanical engineering to automotive technology. Her dream is to work at a major automaker in serviceability.

After 15 months of hormones, she is engrossed in the female lifestyle and out to everyone in her life. She wants to have as little surgery as possible and is having consultations while she is still a student. Her student insurance at Southern Illinois is comprehensive and will cover medical procedures.

“I can’t tell you how many times I have thought back to where I was five years ago. Where I am at right now is amazing. My friends, girlfriend and family are all fantastic. I have very few complaints,” Fahey says. “I have tried to be outspoken because I feel like I owe it to the community to be a proponent for trans rights.”

Recently Fahey became scuba certified. During her dives down to submerged shipwrecks, she has begun scrawling ‘Trans Rights’ on every structure.

“I’m just doing my small part,” she says laughing.

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Sports

Final score in Super Bowl LVIII: Queers 14, MAGA haters two

Here’s our own LGBTQ scoreboard for inclusivity vs. bigots

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(Super Bowl LVIII screenshot)

Even if you didn’t watch a second of the Super Bowl Sunday night, you probably already heard through friends or social media that the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the San Francisco 49ers in overtime, 25-22. 

And you undoubtedly learned it was a repeat performance by quarterback Patrick Mahomes and his team, winning the Lombardi trophy two years in a row. And how could you have missed all the coverage of Taylor Swift and her tight end, er, her boyfriend, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce? 

But we kept our own LGBTQ centered scoreboard of the Big Game, awarding points for queer representation and allyship to Team Rainbow, while also making note of points scored by the haters and mad MAGA hatters whom we’ve dubbed Team Troglodyte. To us, that’s the score that really matters, and we are proud to report: WE WON!

Gay man on the field: One point for Team Rainbow

Jonathan Romero cheered with the 49ers Gold Rush team in his first Super Bowl. Romero joined the squad in 2022 and has been welcomed by his cheermates and fans. 

Despite the disappointing loss, Romero went partying after the big game with his squad at Caesars Palace. As the Los Angeles Blade has reported, Quinton Peron and Napoleon Jinnies of the Los Angeles Rams paved the way in 2019 as the first male cheerleaders in Super Bowl history. 

LGBTQ ally Taylor Swift makes out and dances with Travis Kelce after win: Two points for Team Rainbow 

Even if you’re turned-off by straight PDA, the MAGA crowd is even more disgusted by this pop star and her hunk, floating crazy conspiracy theories that their relationship is a plot to re-elect President Joe Biden. Progressives just aren’t that clever enough to engineer that level of musical and political machination. Swift and Kelce danced to her hits at the after-party, songs that have helped closeted fans come out. The Time Person of the Year has embraced LGBTQ rights, has been honored by GLAAD and appeared with drag performers. Maybe she can help the Chiefs acknowledge there are LGBTQ football fans?

Trump takes credit for Taylor Swift’s success because of course he did: One point for Team Troglodyte

Sigh. The truly sad part is how many people will believe this to be true. 

Anti-LGBTQ group funds billion dollar ‘He Gets Us’ Super Bowl ad campaign: One point for Team Troglodyte

A non-profit behind two commercials during the Super Bowl that rebrand Jesus for Gen Z is the main funder of a designated hate group opposing abortion and LGBTQ rights, Open Democracy reports. The report cites Christianity Today as first revealing that David Green, the billionaire co-founder of Hobby Lobby, was among the funders of the ads. They are reportedly produced by a group called The Signatry, a front for the Kansas-based Servant Foundation, which Open Democracy revealed is the main identifiable source of funding for the Alliance Defending Freedom, labeled an extremist anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. And who else is in Kansas? Oh, right, the Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs. 

The SNL alumna takes a backseat to a talking cat in this hilarious commercial for Hellman’s Mayonnaise:

“RuPaul Drag Race” star Heidi N Closet joins Judge Judy, comedian Benito Skinner, Jury Duty’s Ronald Gladden, Grammy-winning singer Meghan Trainor and bestselling author and former NFL linebacker Emmanuel Acho in an ad for e.l.f., reported People.

And there were, reports the Advocate: Mountain Dew, NYX, Paramount+, Starry, Homes.com — featuring “Schitt’s Creek” star Dan Levy across three ads, for three points  — and this year, Volkswagen portrayed a lesbian wedding! 

Gay flag football in Super Bowl spotlightOne point for Team Rainbow

The NFL hosted a group of LGBTQ youth from Las Vegas at a flag football clinic during Super Bowl week at the NFL Experience. A variety of NFL front-office executives, board members of the National Gay Flag Football League, the 49ers cheerleaders and former NFL stars Tony Richardson and Kenny Stills, according to Outsports.

Final score: Team Rainbow 14, Team Troglodyte 2! 

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Sports

Your gay guide to Super Bowl LVIII

San Francisco 49ers will play the Kansas City Chiefs

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(NFL/Los Angeles Blade graphic)

The countdown to the big day is down to just hours. And no, we’re not talking about Episode 7 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” that’s not until next Friday! No, the straights are super-hyped about the biggest game in 2024 sports, and believe it or not, there are many sports fans who also just happen to be LGBTQ who are excited to watch Super Bowl LVIII. 

That’s 58 to those of you who didn’t pay attention to Roman Numerals in grade school.

And yes, besides the commercials, the halftime show, the nachos and the adult beverages, there’s plenty of queer content to enjoy. So, whether you’re just watching for the tight pants, wondering which of the cheerleaders is secretly Sapphic, or perhaps unaware that the NFL actually does support the LGBTQ community and has had players come out, grab a beer and read on. 

Who’s Playing and When? 

The San Francisco 49ers are playing the Kansas City Chiefs in Las Vegas on CBS and Paramount+ with the pre-game coverage starting at 6 p.m. EST and kickoff at 6:30 p.m. Reba McEntire (No, not Taylor Swift) is singing the National Anthem.

What About the Halftime Show?

The Apple Music Super Bowl LVIII Halftime Show begins at approximately 8 p.m. EST and Usher (No, not Taylor Swift) is performing. 

Meet the 49ers’ Out Gay Male Cheerleader

Jonathan Romero will be cheering with the 49ers Gold Rush team in his first Super Bowl. As the Los Angeles Blade has reported, Quinton Peron and Napoleon Jinnies of the Los Angeles Rams paved the way in 2019 as the first male cheerleaders in Super Bowl history, and Peron has reportedly been by Romero’s side all this week leading up to his debut. Romero joined the squad in 2022.

So Does the NFL Really Welcome Us? 

The answer is a resounding yes, as evidenced this past week at “A Night With Pride.” For the third year in a row, GLAAD teamed up with the league and big-name sponsors for a glittery gala, this time at Caesars Palace, headlined by out singer Lance Bass and performer VINCINT. Special guests included both Romero and Peron, out gay defensive lineman Carl Nassib, who retired recently, former NFL player RK Russell, Jacksonville Jaguars strength coach Kevin Maxen, sportswriter LZ Granderson, actor Angelica Ross, pro wrestler Anthony Bowens, pro snowboarder Brittany Gilman as well as GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis and many more stars.

So how inclusive is the NFL? I mean, really?

The LGBTQ sports site Outsports recently chronicled 62 current or recent NFL players, 13 owners and nine head coaches who support gay and bi athletes and the LGBTQ community, and 101 efforts at inclusion by the NFL, its teams and its players. It was ten years ago this week that Michael Sam came out as gay. Fast-forward to 2021 when Nassib came out as the first out gay active football player in NFL history. Times have changed.

Has anyone gay ever played in a Super Bowl?

The answer is yes, but none came out until after they retired. The most recent was Ryan O’Callaghan, an offensive lineman with the New England Patriots in the 2007 season. O’Callaghan also played with the Kansas City Chiefs and in 2022 predicted more players will come out. As Outsports has reported, two gay men played for the 49ers, although neither played in a Super Bowl. Running back Dave Kopay was a 49er from 1964-67 and offensive tackle Kwame Harris from 2003-2007. Those who preceded O’Callaghan were Jerry Smith (1972), Roy Simmons (1983) and Esera Tuaolo (1998.)

Has anyone LGBTQ+ ever coached in a Super Bowl?

Yes again! Katie Sowers was the first out LGBTQ coach in Super Bowl history. She was with the 49ers back then. 

Do either the Chiefs or the 49ers support LGBTQ fans? 

Check out 49ers Pride! As the Blade has reported, they have led the league in representation and the team has supported them with gender-neutral fan gear. As for the Chiefs, well, we couldn’t find anything on their website that relates to LGBTQ. 

Whomever you root for, have fun, and celebrate safely!

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What’s the queer quotient for the 2024 Summer Olympics?

Paris games to begin on July 26

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IOC Paris 2024 (Los Angeles Blade graphic)

Just 172 days remain until France hosts the Summer Games in the famed City of Light. Questions also remain about whether all the colors of the Pride flag will be inclusively illuminated when the Olympics return to Paris for the first time in a century.

The Los Angeles Blade has compiled this brief guide to the major areas of interest, with the intent to preview what queer fans can expect from this year’s event: 

  • How many out LGBTQ athletes will be representing both their countries and their identities and orientations
  • Restrictions on out transgender athletes and 
  • What the International Olympic Committee is saying — so far — about athletes displaying Pride flags and rainbow colors. 

All of this is very subject to change before July 26, the opening day of the Summer Games. 

Looking Back

At the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, 36 out athletes competed among the 2,871 entered into competition, as the Blade reported. If the LGBTQ athletes were counted as one team, they would have placed 12th in terms of medal count. 

That set a record, although the numbers couldn’t compare to the last Summer Games, the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo — which were held in 2021 because of the pandemic. A historic showing in those Summer Games featured 186 out athletes, who would have ranked 11th in the medal tally if grouped together. 

Looking Ahead

Sha’Carri Richardson (NBC Sports YouTube screenshot)

Sha’Carri Richardson, the fastest woman in the world, will represent Team USA at the Summer Games. As the Blade reported last August, Richardson set a world record for the 100m by crossing the finish line in 10.65 seconds. She identifies as bisexual. 

Robbie Manson, the gay rower for New Zealand, announced he qualified for Paris last September. And, to the delight of many, has remained active on OnlyFans as well, reported Out. Manson came out in 2014. 

Emma Twigg will also be competing as a rower in Paris, defending the Olympic gold medal she won in Tokyo in 2021, according to Stuff. Twigg is gay, married to her wife, Charlotte, and together they have a son, Tommy, born in 2022. 

Campbell Harrison of Australia announced on Instagram in November that he qualified to compete in the category of rock climbing for the Summer Games. He came out as gay in 2021. 

Yulimar Rojas holds a world record in triple jump and was an Olympic champion in Tokyo and has already qualified to represent Venezuela in track and field in Paris. Rojas told Infobae she dreams of being “the first to open the gap of 16 [meters,] it’s like another galaxy.”

Kadeisha Buchanan will lead Team Canada in their defense of their Gold Medal for Women’s Soccer in her third appearance at the Games this summer, as Humber News reported. 

Quinn, the first transgender nonbinary Olympic Gold Medalist, competed as a midfielder in Canada’s soccer qualifier last September and is expected back on the pitch in Paris. 

Sadly, it looks as though Australia and Chelsea soccer star Sam Kerr is likely to miss Paris, because of a ruptured ACL. She suffered the knee injury during training three weeks ago in Morocco, reports the official Olympics website. 

Australia and Chelsea soccer star Sam Kerr (Photo courtesy of Kerr’s Instagram page)

There are several other LGBTQ athletes who are likely to qualify. Review the Official 2024 Olympics calendar of qualifiers by clicking here. The Blade will keep you posted as we learn more. 

Transgender Competitors

The International Olympic Committee decided after the last Summer Games to issue a new “Framework for Fairness” in November 2021, which basically punted decisions on inclusion to individual sports organizations. As the Blade reported in June 2022, the International Swimming Federation, once known as FINA and now World Aquatics, decided that trans athletes must have completed their medical transition before the age of 12 to avoid “unfair advantages.”

Laurel Hubbard, a weightlifter from New Zealand, was the first out trans athlete to compete at any Olympic Games. She made history in Tokyo, but her performance in the women’s +87kg category wasn’t what got her name into the record books. At 43, Hubbard was the oldest competitor at the 32nd Olympic Games, and after three unsuccessful lift attempts, her participation was reduced to an abduction that did not last more than 10 minutes. Given the new rules, she won’t be back in 2024. 

Following World Aquatics’ lead, Union Cycliste Internationale — the organizers of World Cycling in Switzerland — the Disc Golf Pro Tour, World Athletics, the British Triathlon Federation and the International Rugby League have changed or adopted new “transgender participation policies” that effectively ban trans women from competing with cisgender women. 

World Aquatics has since added a new “open category” in which anyone can compete, aimed at providing a way for trans swimmers to compete. But since only cisgender women can compete in the category that is designated for “women,” advocates for trans athletes consider that discriminatory. NCAA Division I Champion Lia Thomas has challenged World Aquatics at Court for Arbitration for Sport, as the Blade has reported.

Pride House

As has been a tradition at almost every Olympics — the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, being the most memorable exception — Paris will have a Pride House. “A space that will be open to everyone, where it will be possible to celebrate its community and its pride,” according to the official website. 

The Pride House will be set up at Parc de la Villette, “just a short distance from competition venues such as the La Chapelle Arena, Stade de France and even La Concorde,” the site explains. 

Symbols of Pride 

Beyond the Pride House and other “protected” locations in Paris, the International Olympic Committee has told the LGBTQ sports site Outsports that it is committed to ensuring all athletes “have equal opportunities to express themselves” by holding up Pride flags or other rainbow apparel in line with the recently revised wording to its Olympic Charter and updated guidelines for participants.

You can read the changes to the charter, enacted in October 2023, by clicking here. Unchanged is the fundamental principle that “the practice of sport is a human right.”

The IOC said assessments will continue to be made on a “case-by-case” basis, according to the report. 

Paralympics

The 2024 Paralympic Games are set for Aug. 28 through Sept, 8, and LGBTQ+ athletes are again expected to compete. Click here for more information about those games.

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