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GAME CHANGERS: Stonewall Climbing founder Bryan Yamasaki embraces diversity

Sports, music lover plans national outreach survey in March

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Bryan Yamasak, gay news, Washington Blade
Bryan Yamasaki says his passion for climbing grew out of ennui with the local gay bar scene. (Photo courtesy Yamasaki)

This week in the Blade’s Game Changers series, we meet a gay athlete who has been on a mission to create a more inclusive environment among local queer climbers.

Bryan Yamasaki launched Stonewall Climbing in 2017 along with Brinda Dass in a league format with two seasons per year. There were already climbing groups in existence, but he was looking to expand the definition of a safe space.

“Even though they were LGBTQ-based groups in existence, I didn’t consider them safe spaces. There was ageism, racism and sexism. In the LGBTQ climbing community, we weren’t exposed to people who weren’t gay men,” Yamasaki says. “The LGBTQ community is constantly changing and there are people who we haven’t seen or heard yet. It is an ongoing evolution.”

Yamasaki grew up in Gaithersburg and was more focused on music than sports. He played piano and was in the marching band in high school where he played trombone, baritone horn and tuba.

He ran cross country in high school and picked up fencing in college along with playing in the Ohio University Marching Band.

When he returned to the D.C. area after graduation, he grew tired of the bar scene and wanted to find a healthy lifestyle. A quick search of trust-building activities brought up climbing.

“In my first climb I got halfway up the wall and had a bridesmaid moment,” Yamasaki says. “It was like walking a plank and it felt symbolic that it was just me out there by myself.”

Within a year, he stepped into a leadership position and began recruiting people. The climbing touchstones are self-reliance, learning from failure and using physical activity to improve self-confidence.

Yamasaki says the model being built still needs work and he continues to look for pockets of queer climbers. In March he will launch a national survey with hopes of connecting with people from the deep South to the Pacific Northwest.

“I recently traveled to Tennessee and Oregon for climbing events and the first thing I do when I visit a new city is find the local LGBTQ community center,” Yamasaki says. “I am interested in communities that create safe spaces and learning how I can use that information to make climbing available to more people.”

Sport climbing is growing at a fast pace and will be included in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics this summer. There is no queer national governing body, but Yamasaki hopes that will happen eventually along with a national tournament.

“This journey started with feeling alone, being alone and wanting to raise my self-awareness. Embracing the queer climbing community has exposed me to other people who are like me,” Yamasaki says. “That self-awareness has led to me asking what is missing from this picture and how do I actively change it. I am willingly putting myself out there because I know there are more people who need to be seen.”

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Washington Spirit host largest halftime drag performance in NWSL history

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The Washington Spirit against Racing Louisville at Audi Field on June 3rd, 2023 in Washington DC. (© Breanna Biorato/Washington Spirit)

The Washington Spirit celebrated the LGBTQ+ community with the team’s annual Pride Night at Audi Field this past Saturday. Highlighting that evening’s Pride-themed festivities was a
halftime drag performance, featuring over a dozen drag performers from around the
DMV. It was the largest halftime drag performance in NWSL history.

Performers included: Shiqueeta Lee, KCByonce, Citrine the Queen, Elektra Gee, Kabuki Bukkake, Delila B. Lee, Capri Bloomingdale, Tara Ashleigh Austin, Gigi Couture, Dorsell Phinn, Tula, Twix the Drag Queen, Bootsy Omega, Princeza.

The Washington Spirit against Racing Louisville at Audi Field on June 3rd, 2023 in Washington DC.   (© Breanna Biorato/Washington Spirit)
The Washington Spirit against Racing Louisville at Audi Field on June 3rd, 2023 in Washington DC.   (© Breanna Biorato/Washington Spirit)
The Washington Spirit against Racing Louisville at Audi Field on June 3rd, 2023 in Washington DC.   (© Breanna Biorato/Washington Spirit)
The Washington Spirit against Racing Louisville at Audi Field on June 3rd, 2023 in Washington DC.   (© Breanna Biorato/Washington Spirit)
The Washington Spirit against Racing Louisville at Audi Field on June 3rd, 2023 in Washington DC.   (© Breanna Biorato/Washington Spirit)
The Washington Spirit against Racing Louisville at Audi Field on June 3rd, 2023 in Washington DC.   (© Breanna Biorato/Washington Spirit)
The Washington Spirit against Racing Louisville at Audi Field on June 3rd, 2023 in Washington DC.   (© Breanna Biorato/Washington Spirit)
The Washington Spirit against Racing Louisville at Audi Field on June 3rd, 2023 in Washington DC.   (© Breanna Biorato/Washington Spirit)
The Washington Spirit drew, 1-1, against Racing Louisville FC at its Annual Pride Night.
The Washington Spirit against Racing Louisville at Audi Field on June 3rd, 2023 in Washington DC.   (© Breanna Biorato/Washington Spirit)
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Los Angeles Dodgers apologize, reverse decision on disinviting drag group

Pride Night to take place June 16

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Los Angeles Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (Facebook photo)

In a tweet Monday afternoon, the Los Angeles Dodgers Major League Baseball franchise reversed last Wednesday’s decision to disinvite the LA Chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence from a scheduled “Community Hero Award” presentation for the team’s annual Pride Night on June 16.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Lindsey P. Horvath announced on Twitter Monday afternoon after the Dodgers apology, and its accompanying public acceptance by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, that she had been pleased to have assisted in facilitating a meeting between the team, the Sisters and stakeholders in the LGBTQ community’s leadership both non-profit and political to come to an understanding.

In a Monday afternoon phone call with the Los Angeles Blade, Horvath explained that important dialogue between the Dodgers and other parties had commenced. She said that earlier on Monday, in a meeting at Dodger Stadium, the stakeholders met to work out a solution.

“I was honestly moved and grateful by the commitment in the room by all the parties, especially Dodgers president and part-owner Stan Kasten,” Horvath said.

In addition to the representatives from the Sisters drag group, the meeting was also attended by Los Angeles LGBT Center Chief Executive Officer Joe Hollendoner, LA Pride President Gerald GarthBoard, West Hollywood Mayor Sepi Shyne, state Assemblymember Rick Chavez Zbur, and state Sen. Caroline Menjivar. Zbur and Menjivar attending on behalf of the California Legislative LGBTQ caucus.

Horvath indicated that she felt it was a critically important meeting with all stakeholders as they worked through the anger, sense of betrayal, and misgivings over the Dodgers actions. She pointed out that she was convinced that the Dodgers president was genuinely remorseful and apologetic.

In an email Monday night, Zbur told the Blade: “It was clear that today’s meeting followed meaningful internal dialogue among Dodgers management, with whom I had numerous frank conversations during the week and weekend. I’m pleased that the Dodgers came to understand the genuine hurt and injury caused by the decision to exclude the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence — one that did not reflect our Los Angeles or California values.

As the only LGBTQ members of the Legislature representing Los Angeles, Senator Menjivar and I participated in the meeting at the request of the California LGBTQ Legislative Caucus to express the serious and uniform concern of Democratic members of the California Legislature.

After hearing the perspectives of the Sisters, L.A. Pride and the LGBTQ+ leaders in the room, the Dodger management apologized unequivocally for their mistake, re-invited the Sisters to participate in the event, and engaged in a discussion about the steps that they could take to reconcile with LGBTQ+ community.

I was proud of the Sisters, who demonstrated  resilience, strength and a commitment to the LGBTQ+ community during the discussion, and I was impressed with the sincerity of the apology by the Dodger management.”

The Los Angeles LGBT Center had called on the team to cancel Pride Night altogether. After the Dodgers had made their public apology, Hollendoner issued the following statement:

“Today’s decision by the Dodgers to publicly apologize to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and roll back their exclusion from next month’s Pride Night is a step in the right direction, and we support the Sisters’ vote to accept their much-deserved Community Hero Award.

Last week’s debacle underscores the dangerous impact of political tactics by those who seek to stoke the flames of anti-LGBTQ bias at a time when our rights are under attack. We must continue to stand together as a community in defense of the rights and recognition of LGBTQ+ people in Los Angeles and beyond.

The Center is filled with gratitude to our Los Angeles community, who mobilized to support the Sisters, all of which compelled the Dodgers to ultimately do right by LGBTQ+ people everywhere. We are proud to stand with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and will join them at Pride Night to honor their many important contributions to our movement.

The Dodgers’ course correction and the conversations we have had with the organization’s leadership since last week demonstrates the version of allyship we have come to expect from the team over the years. The Center will always strive to hold our corporate partners accountable — which means so much more than waving a rainbow flag.” 

The team announced last week it would drop the drag group from its celebration of LGBTQ+
fans, the day after a letter-writing campaign was launched by the anti-LGBTQ Catholic League. Catholic League President Bill Donohue accused the team of “rewarding anti-Catholicism” by honoring the group.

“The Catholic League has been the leading critic of this bigoted organization for many decades,” Donohue wrote on the organization’s website. “… These homosexual bigots are known for simulating sodomy while dressed as nuns.”

He added, “Just last month, they held an event mocking our Blessed Mother and Jesus on Easter Sunday.”

One of those writing, was U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) who also sent a letter to Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, stating that he was questioning whether the League is “inclusive and welcoming” to Christians. 

At the time, the Dodgers said they removed the group from their Pride Night celebration “given the strong feelings of people who have been offended by the Sisters’ inclusion in our evening, and in an effort not to distract from the great benefits … of Pride Night.”

On Saturday, Anaheim Mayor Ashleigh Aitken invited the drag group to Angels Pride Night in a tweet, as reported by the Blade: “I’m inviting the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence to join me for @Angels Pride Night at Anaheim Stadium on June 7. Pride should be inclusive and like many, I was disappointed in the Dodgers’ decision,” tweeted the Mayor .

Neither the Angels nor the mayor’s office confirmed that invitation as of press time, and also did not comment on the Dodgers’ reversal.

However, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange took aim at Aitken for extending the invitation to the drag group:

“The decision to openly embrace a group whose demeaning behavior is anti-Catholic and anti-Christian is misguided and disrespectful to the sisters of the Catholic Church who minister in Orange County and selflessly dedicate their lives to God’s underserved people,” said Jarryd Gonzales, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange on Monday.

“We cannot condone any actions that have historically shown such high levels of disregard for the sincerely held beliefs of the faithful,” he added.

“Our June 7th Pride Night is part of Major League Baseball’s league-wide effort to raise awareness and promote acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community. As in the past, OC Pride has assisted our Organization in the planning of this event as well as outreach to all fans throughout Southern California,” an Angels spokesperson said on the mayor’s invitation.

The Sisters have not indicated publicly if they plan to attend the Angels Pride Night as of yet.

Sources tell the Blade out gay Dodgers Vice President Erik Braverman was being advised on this crisis by Outsports co-founder Cyd Zeigler. When contacted by the Blade, Zeigler declined to comment.

A spokesperson for the Dodgers did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

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Vice president meets Brittney Griner before first game back

Russia released WNBA star from penal colony late last year

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Brittney Griner and her wife, Cherelle Griner, with Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff, on May 19, 2023, before Brittney Griner's first professional basketball game back since being released from a Russian penal camp. (White House photo by Lawrence Jackson)

Vice President Kamala Harris accompanied by her husband, second gentleman Doug Emhoff, greeted WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury star center Brittney Griner and her wife Cherelle Friday night before Griner’s first professional basketball game back since being released from a Russian penal camp last December.

According to the White House Press Pool reporter traveling with Harris, she and Emhoff arrived at Crypto.com Arena in downtown Los Angeles and met with the Griners prior to the game between the LA Sparks and Phoenix Mercury.

After conversations between the four, the vice president met with the rest of the Mercury in their dressing rooms before meeting with host team the LA Sparks in theirs.

According to the Advocate’s reporter Christopher Wiggins, in her meeting with the Mercury, the vice president said:

“I came here to talk to the team to congratulate you on exhibiting excellence in every way. You are some of the finest athletes in the world, and to do what you do every day shows that it is right to have ambition,” she said.

“It is right to have aspirations. It is right to work hard. It is right to compete when you know you have put everything into it; when you have trained, when you have discipline, when you have intelligence and when you have brilliance.”

She added, “It makes me so proud as vice president of the United States to go around the world talking to folks about a variety of issues, and one of the subjects that does come up is the WNBA. [The world] is watching what you guys are doing, lifting up the excellence of the finest athletes in the world.”

After meeting both teams Harris then showed up at center court to cheers from about 10,000 people and received an honorary jersey from the Sparks.

The Sparks beat the Mercury 94-71, although the Advocate pointed out: “Griner’s return to the floor and doing what she loves was more important than the result. Six rebounds, four blocks, and 18 points rounded out her performance.”

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