LGBT Sports Teams Provide Brotherhood, Camaraderie
The Seattle Frontrunners certainly don't mess around!
The running team trains two or three times a week as a group and they consistently place in the top five percent of every race they run. They range from 20-somethings to a 75-year-old marathoner and are spread out across many genders.
Their story, though, isn't unique in Seattle anymore. In fact, across the country, LGBT sports teams and their members are openly competing in a variety of sports now more than ever.
You can blame social media, you can blame progress for gay rights, you could even blame the liberal agenda pushing tolerance to all people. But when it comes down to it, gays, like so many Americans, like to play sports.
Cyd Zeigler, co-founder of Outsports.com, said that LGBT sports teams in the late 1990s went against the stereotype that gays didn't like sports. Now, though, those teams are becoming commonplace, especially in Seattle and other large cities.
Outsports.com has been on the gay sports scene covering LGBT athletes, teams, news and even the occasional eye candy since 1999. Zeigler was there in the beginning to document the boom. And he said that people generally like to do things with people who are like them-gays are no exception.
"Throughout our entire lives as gay people we are absolutely surrounded by straight people all the time... and so we often sneak out to meet people," Zeigler told EDGE. "I don't think there is anything wrong with that."
Zeigler said that gay sports are entering the end of a 20-year period in which the numbers of LGBT-specific teams and queer people in sports increased rapidly. He added that while the United States nears the end of this cycle, the growth won't stop-even among suggestions that queer people can participate in heterosexual sports teams. "There's always a need for it," stressed Zeigler.
LGBT athletes are gaining momentum and recognition, recently seen in several Major League Baseball teams' "It Gets Better" videos and even European rugby player Gareth Thomas' coming out.
Although Seattle hasn't had a prominent, out queer athlete on a professional team since former Storm player Sheryl Swoopes, the city has developed an LGBT sports-friendly reputation. Its booming LGBT basketball teams, softball leagues, rugby team, running clubs, volleyball and water polo teams, among others, put the city on the nation's map for being open to gay athletes.
Vince Healy, president of the Seattle Frontrunners, said his group now has more than 200 members, with many more non-members who train with the group and participate in their races. The organization hosted Run and Walk with Pride on Sunday, June 19, to coincide with the kick-off to Seattle Pride. More than 300 runners participated with more than half of them coming from outside the group.
The Frontrunners are not exclusive, however, and it's pretty hard to find a "gay-only" sports team. The teams and groups might be gay-specific, but are nearly always open to allies and friends.
The same is true for the Emerald City Softball Association, which has played for more than 30 seasons in Seattle. Commissioner Jeff Card said there is no shortage of people who will play.
"You just need to find a leader [for a team]. And we've been really good at developing leaders," he told EDGE.
Michael Maddux is a paralegal in Seattle who is currently in his second season with Emerald City Softball. A friend recruited him one night over drinks, and Maddux remains glad he joined.
"It's better than spending our time at bath houses, or whatever gays do nowadays," he joked.
He said that Seattle especially provides an environment where sports can thrive, "It's a live and let live city when it comes to your personal life," said Maddux.
Quake Rugby operates with the same model.
"When you call someone brother and mean it, it also means you accept that person for who and what they are," said Duane Ward, president of Quake Rugby, referring to the team's familial bonds.
This brotherhood is one reason why True Haliwell and other players are on the Quake team, and why other LGBT teams have been so successful.
For Haliwell, rugby isn't just a game. His teammates aren't just friends and at the end of the day, Haliwell is more than just your everyday sports fan. The ex-Navy sailor is a self-identified bisexual man of color who never played rugby before being crowned Mr. Gay Seattle in 2009. He is now a star player who embraces his sport's family-like culture.
"I feel my team plays rugby hard," said Haliwell. "As a gay team we have earned the respect of our peers."