The LGBT sports movement moved into full swing 10 years ago and the Washington Blade capitalized on the changing environment by expanding its scope and establishing a dedicated sports column to report on the D.C. athletes involved in the movement.
Since that time, the Blade has showcased hundreds of local LGBT athletes who are thriving in sports community as out athletes.
In 2013, the Blade introduced an annual sports issue which shines a light on local, national and international LGBT athletes who are breaking down stereotypes through their involvement in sports.
In the decades leading up to the LGBT sports movement, visibility wasn’t always welcomed by LGBT athletes who were mostly living in the shadows. Fear of rejection and bullying, and even fear of being kicked out of their sport, led many athletes to remain in the closet.
As the pioneers of the Washington D.C. LGBT sports community began forming clubs, there was one source that allowed athletes to share their message in hopes of finding other athletes who wanted to play sports. That source felt like a safe space which in turn would lead to the safe spaces that are now common in our local LGBT sports community.
Many of the first LGBT teams that were formed in D.C., such as the D.C. Front Runners, the Federal Triangles Soccer Club, the Washington Wetskins and the District of Columbia Aquatics Club, were producing their own newsletters and mailing them out in unmarked envelopes to protect the identities of their athletes.
Once their fears began to subside, they turned to the Washington Blade to reach a wider audience. The Blade began adding sports announcements in its Calendar section and started sharing stories in the Close Up section.
In the August 7, 1981 issue of the Washington Blade, the following ad appeared announcing the presence of gay runners:
All Gay runners interested in starting up a running club are invited to attend an organizational meeting to be held at the Gay Community Center, 1469 Church Street, N.W., August 13 at 7.
A small ad hoc steering committee has already begun considering items for the meeting agenda, including the choice of a name, the formal club structure, the possibility of organizing a seasonal race, and the options available for affiliating with local and national Gay and non-gay running organizations.
The group will also discuss the 4.4 mile fun run scheduled for 9 a.m., August 15 on the towpath along the canal, starting underneath Key Bridge.
The announcement would mark the birth of the D.C. Front Runners who are still meeting at 7 pm on Thursdays for weekly fun runs.
“As a practical matter, the Blade provided the Front Runners an opportunity to communicate to the broader community. Many of our core group of runners came from our announcements in the Blade,” says Tony Anderson, a longtime Front Runner and former club coordinator. “I remember a straight friend saying, ‘This isn’t fair, you have a news outlet that can communicate to your entire community in an effective way,’”
The same holds true for the first members of the Federal Triangles Soccer Club, who started with pickup games on the National Mall.
“The Blade was our form of communication to everybody for our pickup games in 1990,” says Jim Ensor of the Federal Triangles. “We had a lot of players get involved with the team through the Blade and many are still active with us.”
In July, 1985, a group of swimmers placed an ad in the Blade looking for water polo players. They had no idea how to play, but they wanted to be a part of something outside the bar scene.
“Everyone read the Blade because it was the only way to communicate,” says Jack Markey, a co-founder of the Washington Wetskins and the District of Columbia Aquatics Club. “It made people aware of the resources in the community — everything was in the Blade.”
Fast-forward to 2019 and Washington D.C., led by information clearinghouse Team D.C., is one of the largest LGBT sports communities in the world with more than 40 LGBT sports clubs.
Earlier this year, Europe-based sportsmedialgbt.com pointed to the Washington Blade as a leading news source on sports news and content with an LGBT emphasis.
The Blade will continue to spotlight the journeys of LGBT athletes through themed storytelling such as the Rookies & Vets series and the All Star series. This fall, a new series titled Game Changers will be introduced.
The LGBT athletes who once lived in the shadows have stepped into the light. Sharing stories sparks connections and the Blade is the connection that has endured for 50 years.