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.”