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Batter up

Gay Games, Glenn Conklin, CAPS, gay news, Washington Blade

Glenn Conklin, first at left standing, with his CAPS teammates during last summer’s North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance Softball World Series in Washington. (Photo courtesy Conklin)

Growing up, Glenn Conklin was much more passionate about tennis than he was softball. Though he would tag along to practices and warm up with his younger sister, who was quite serious about the game, tennis was his main sport.

But times have changed. Though he eventually ended up competing in major junior tennis tournaments and attended the University of South Carolina on a Division I tennis scholarship, softball is now the sport Conklin is most invested in. In August he’ll travel to the Gay Games in Cleveland with the Chesapeake and Potomac Softball League (CAPS), the league of which he’s enjoying his third season currently.

“I have become addicted to playing softball because of my teammates and the great friends I have made along the way,” the 35-year-old Warwick, N.Y., says. “Softball is wonderful because everything I do on the field is a shared experience with 15 or so other guys. We triumph together and we fall together. I have a great appreciation for the skill and talent it takes to play the sport and I keep coming back because I know the more I play, the better I will get. I have a great deal of room to get better.”

Conklin, by day a Human Capital Strategist for Natural Resources Conservation Service, an agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, spends a lot of his free time playing softball. The CAPS, which came in ninth out of 50 teams in its division at the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance Gay Softball World Series held in Washington last summer, also have a travel team the Conklin co-formed with CAPS Commissioner Ed Vincent. Last year, members played tournaments in Las Vegas, Atlanta and Columbis, Ohio. This year, they’ll be in Philadelphia for Memorial Day weekend and in the Bourbon Street Classic in New Orleans in December, in addition to the Gay Games.

This will be Conklin’s first time at the Gay Games. He’s looking forward to what he hopes will be a “loud and proud contingent of (D.C.) athletes to represent our area.”

To prepare, he’s focusing on playing as much as possible in the months ahead, building up game speed and regular trips to the batting cages to work on hitting.

“Stamina and endurance are everything in a tournament that spans multiple days where you may need to play 10-15 games in the span of five days, so I will take cardio and endurance training more seriously this summer to make certain I am ready to play whenever I am needed,” Conklin says.

He also, of course, hopes to stay free of injury as well.

“I do seem to be more prone to injury than others,” he says. “One time as I was sprinting through first base, I clipped the first baseman’s leg, flew forward in a mid-air roll, banged my head on a rock and knocked myself unconscious. Who says softball is a non-contact sport?”

And as with any athlete going to a major tournament, he has envisioned what it would feel like to stand on the podium at Firestone Atadium in Akron, Ohio, hearing the National Anthem and winning a gold medal.

“I am looking forward to giving it 100 percent at the softball diamond and being a leader for my team,” he says. “I expect the competition to be focused and intense, but friendly. I am looking forward to spending time with my teammates and sharing this experience with them, and I am looking forward to making new friends from all over the globe.”


Ready to roll

Jeremy Glasser, gay news, Washington Blade

Jeremy Glasser with the Gold Medal he won at the last Gay Games in 2010. He brought it and his bowling pin for a quick photo shoot this week at Night Out at the Kastles. (Washington Blade photo by Kevin Majoros)

When Jeremy Glasser went to his first Gay Games in Sydney, Australia in 2002, he competed in both bowling and tennis. Considering both sports run the entire week of the Games, it was a lofty undertaking. Added to that challenge was the issue of dragging his bowling ball and tennis racket half way around the world.

Next month, Glasser will compete in his third Gay Games in Cleveland, his first on American soil, and will limit himself to one sport.

“For Cleveland, I chose to compete in bowling because I can just throw my bowling ball in the trunk of my car and drive there,” Glasser says. “For Paris in 2018, I will probably choose tennis since it will be easier to transport my racket.”

Another reason for choosing bowling in Cleveland is that he wants to defend his gold medal in team bowling that was won in the 2010 Cologne Gay Games.

Growing up in Dayton, Ohio, Glasser played the obligatory little kids sports such as T-ball and soccer. In junior high, he coached volleyball but most of his focus was on academics.

After moving to Washington, where he works as a paralegal and is an alumni of George Mason University, Glasser and his partner at the time were looking for something to do outside of the bar scene. They joined an LBGT bowling league in 1996 and Glasser has continued to bowl with the Capital Area Rainbowlers Association (CARA).

The bowling led to a season with the Chesapeake and Potomac Softball League and then the Capital Tennis Association. Glasser is currently a member of both CARA and the Association.

“I bowl in a CARA league during the winters and play on the CTA league in the summers,” he says. “Bowling is my social outlet and tennis is my exercise.”

At the Gay Games next month, Glasser will compete in the singles, doubles and team events in bowling. He recently used the Liberty Bell bowling tournament in Philadelphia as a tune-up and will continue to practice bowling weekly along with his tennis play leading up to the Games.

Glasser has a few reasons for staying in the sport of bowling for almost two decades.

“I love the social aspect and there are so many nice and friendly people,” he says. “Since you don’t have to be athletic, I feel that bowling is inclusive of everyone. All types of people can bowl.”

Glasser, who is hearing impaired, is active with the International Gay Bowling Organization and serves as national Co-Chair of the Deaf & Disabled Bowlers Advisory Committee. Their goal is to give everyone an opportunity to participate and to foster a sense of belonging at tournaments and events. They also provide ASL interpreters and ensure that all event venues are ADA compliant.

“Another wonderful thing about bowling is that the handicap pin count scoring system allows an average bowler to directly compete with a good bowler,” he says. “Not every sport offers a chance for all to feel equal.”

Now 40, Glasser says that his favorite thing about the Gay Games is the opening ceremonies. Washington, D.C. is generally the last team before the host team to march into the stadium during the parade of athletes.

“Once Team DC comes into the stadium, it is already packed with athletes and fans. The noise level will be incredible and I won’t be able to stop smiling,” Glasser says. “There is a real sense of acceptance and belonging to a greater community.”

He adds laughing, “I mean the Pointer Sisters are going to be there. I’m so excited. Right?”


Change is coming to homoerotic world of NFL

Kate Clinton, gay news, Washington Blade

Kate Clinton is a humorist who has entertained LGBT audiences for 30 years.

The Super Bowl High Holy Days approach, signaling the end of the Concussion Season. Unless you’ve been under a rock, and I say that with some envy, you know the game between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks will take place in Metlife Stadium in New Jersey, unless there’s another “traffic study” from Gov. Conehead. The Jets and the Giants RSVPed their regrets weeks ago. Much has been made of Colorado and California, two states with legalized marijuana, thus The Stoner Bowl.

We’ve seen the effects on tennis players at the Australian Open of whatever is the polar opposite of the polar vortex: passing out, cramping, vomiting, dehydration, Sharapova’s barks at only a raspy .02 decibels. But apparently the Aussie organizers were unable to see the signs and ordered play to continue. I have already ordered one of those neat ice vests for the summer!  We can only hope that the Polar Vortex Redux that is again sitting over the Northeast will be gone by Super Bowl game day.

But 2013 saw a remarkable thaw in the hard-packed perma-frost of homophobia in sports. What was once a glacial pace of change is moving as fast as actual glaciers are moving now. Organizers and fans can see the effects.  According to OutSports, in 2013, 77 athletes came out in their sports. Not in sad memoirs 40 years later. LGBT organizing through the Sports Projects Collaboration at NCLR and straight allies organizing through campaigns like “You Can Play,” to name just two, make playing out less of a career death wish.

Football is one of the last bastions of homophobia in sports. It is also one of the most brute, blunt, homoerotic of sports. Especially if you are watching on a friend’s 120-inch plasma flat-paneled TV. Cup-less is in. I’ve always thought players wear facemasks so they can’t kiss. But change is happening in the NFL, even if it can only be gauged by the resistance to it. Stories of locker room bullying, columns rationalizing those reigns of terror and harassment of straight players who speak out in support of LGBT causes are yellow flag infractions in the monolith of maleness.

As more and more players come out during their playing careers, I look forward to the coverage. Sports commentators pride themselves on knowing what a player is thinking just by looking at them. They are sports clairvoyants.  “You know what he’s thinking as he leans over his putter, Jim? He’s thinking he’s got to make the putt, to make the cut, so he has a chance at the prize money, which he desperately needs for an operation for his four-year-old.” If he is thinking that, he will not make the putt. Why not sign up for Affordable Health Care?

But what if the golfer is an out-and-proud gay man? The sportscaster is a bit wary, perhaps clueless.  “You know what he’s thinking as he leans over his putter?” He pauses, looks worriedly to Jim,  “Is ‘putter’ OK?” Jim nods. He continues, “He’s thinking, ‘Look at the color of these shoes! They looked fine at the hotel. They totally fight with the putting green!’” I can’t wait.

After the Stoner Bowl confetti settles, and the Metlife zeppelin leaking NJ hot air pot vape, heads back to its mooring, the coverage turns to the Olympic Games in Sochi with Billie Jean King and other gay athletes leading the U.S. delegation in the opening ceremonies. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Putin has assured LGBT athletes they can have a safe, relaxed time if they don’t talk to the children. All bets are off post-Olympics. Again the resistance matches the change we make.


UMass basketball player comes out as gay

Derrick Gordon, gay news, Washington Blade, basketball, Division I, University of Massechusetts

Derrick Gordon came out to fans on his Instagram account with the statement, “This is the happiest I have ever been in my 22 Years of living…No more HIDING!!!” (Photo via FlashGordon Instagram)

A University of Massachusetts guard has become the first member of a National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I basketball player to come out as gay.

“I’ve always loved sports but always felt I had to hide and be someone that I’m not,” Derrick Gordon told ESPN in an interview published on its website on Wednesday. “I am telling my story so that athletes never feel like they have to hide. You can be true to yourself and play the sport that you love.” reported Gordon disclosed his sexual orientation to his teammates on April 2 after the team lost to the University of Tennessee in the NCAA tournament. The website said Wade Davis, a gay former National Football League player, and Gordon’s high school basketball coach, Anthony Nicodemo, worked with the UMass guard to help him come out.

“I was deeply moved watching Derrick open his heart to his UMass basketball family,” said Davis, who is the executive director of the You Can Play Project, in a GLAAD press release. “His desire to invite his teammates into his life speaks to how athletes view their teammates as their family,” said Wade Davis, Executive Director of the You Can Play Project.”

Gordon came out roughly two weeks after Mitch Eby, a football player at Chapman University in California, publicly announced his sexual orientation.

Michael Sam, a defensive lineman at the University of Missouri, in February came out.

The potential mid-round NFL draft pick is poised to potentially become the first openly gay professional football player.


Kickball Championship

Stonewall Kickball held its first championship game on the Mall on Sunday. D.C.-based You Can’t Kick With Us! beat out Summer Heights High with a final score of 13-9. The Bubble Bunts of Raleigh, N.C. rounded out the top three teams by coming in third place. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key) Kickball Championship 


Russian rendezvous

Hudson Taylor, Athlete Ally, HRC, Human Rights Campaign, gay news, Washington Blade

Hudson Taylor started his LGBT advocacy work during his college wrestling career. He eventually started blogging about homophobia in sports and became a vocal advocate for gay rights. (Photo courtesy Athlete Ally)

Hudson Taylor, founder of Athlete Ally, has been granted a visa for travel to Russia where he intends to raise awareness for LGBT rights during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, which will be held from Feb. 7-23.

Athlete Ally has partnered with the Principle 6 campaign, which uses the language of the Olympic Charter to allow athletes and fans to speak out against discrimination during the Sochi Games without violating Russian anti-gay laws or the Olympic ban on political speech.

Principle Six is based on a convention of the IOC charter that states that any form of discrimination on the basis of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with the Olympic movement.

On Jan. 21, the first Sochi-related anti-gay arrest occurred when a Russian gay rights advocate waved a rainbow flag during the Olympic Torch relay.

The Blade caught up with Hudson Taylor, a straight ally, wrestling champion and coach (at Columbia University), before he departs for Russia.


WASHINGTON BLADE: What was the thought process behind planning a trip to Sochi?

HUDSON TAYLOR: I think Sochi gives us an enormous opportunity to raise awareness about what’s going on in Russia. And, what better way to do that than to be actually on the ground and ensure that this is a conversation that is taking place. I talked to the Athlete Ally board and weighed the risk and reward of going and I think we all agreed that the importance of the moment made it such that I needed to go.


BLADE: With all the vague guidance and broad interpretations coming from Russia, where is the line between raising awareness and staging a protest?

TAYLOR: For the Principle Six campaign we thought long and hard about the appropriate line. We are trying to make sure that athletes know that they can show support for Principle Six or the Olympic Charter. This is a way to show the world that discrimination has no place in sports and that the Olympic charter is opposed to what is going on in Russia. As long as we stay true to what the Olympic movement and the Olympic values are all about, we shouldn’t violate Russian law and we shouldn’t put athletes in a position to violate the Olympic Charter.


BLADE: Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter is written for the specific purpose of eliminating advertising, demonstrations and propaganda from the stadiums, venues and other competition areas. Since the athletes won’t be able to wear Principle 6 clothing at their venues, what is the plan for exposure of the clothing line?

TAYLOR: Where we have an opening to raise awareness is on how athletes speak out across social media. My hope is to engage athletes to wear Principle 6 clothing or to tweet photos of the language of Principle 6 out to their fans. It’s a great opportunity because social media is technically not an Olympic venue and it can be used to reach every corner of the world.


BLADE: American Apparel and Idea Brand were behind the manufacturing and branding of the Principle 6 clothing line. Where are the profits being donated?

TAYLOR: All of the profits will be donated to All Out and Athlete Ally. We in turn will be donating the proceeds to Russian-based LGBT organizations.


BLADE: What about the new hand gesture that has been popping up on social media? It consists of the peace sign on one hand and laying the pointer finger of the opposite hand on top of it to form a triangle. Will that be considered propaganda?

TAYLOR: The more opportunities an athlete has to speak out, the better. I think the hand gesture would definitely be construed as propaganda if it is used in the venues or on the medal stands. However, it is another viable and alternative way to speak out by posting it on social media.


BLADE: What will your itinerary consist of during your trip to Sochi?

TAYLOR: I will be in Sochi from Feb. 3-9 and I imagine that most of it will consist of reporting and commentating within the Olympic venues. I will probably take a day to visit one of the protest zones just to see what is going on and to ensure that I can report on it.


BLADE: The visa process for the Sochi Olympics is incredibly stringent. Were you concerned about your visa being approved?

TAYLOR: At first, when the multiple layers of the visa process were announced by the Embassy of the Russian Federation, there was certainly a cause for concern. Now that some security risks have appeared I think people are OK with the hoops and hurdles you have to go through to be on the ground in Sochi.


BLADE: Have the recent terrorist video threats changed anything for you in terms of keeping yourself safe in Sochi?

TAYLOR:  In everything I will be doing in Sochi, there will be a risk and reward calculation. We will figure out a way not to expose myself or the organization to any unnecessary risks while giving the appropriate attention to the human rights issues in Russia and how it is affecting the LGBT community there.


BLADE: What about the comments made by Putin linking the gay community to pedophilia? Do you think those comments will make the gay rights advocates more aggressive in their protests?

TAYLOR: For advocates who are passionate about these issues, it will certainly stoke a fire in them, especially in an Olympic situation where athletes under the age of 18 will be competing and who may in fact be LGBT. Putin’s comments only exacerbate or incentivize people to speak out against it. The stark contrast of how Putin sees the LGBT community versus how the rest of the world sees them will be very evident during the Sochi Games.


BLADE:  How hard will you be trying to get into the NBC Studios to chat with Bob Costas?

TAYLOR: Very hard (laughing). When you look at what athletes have the ability to do in terms of raising awareness, one area is social media and the other is the responses they give to the journalists who ask the questions. We will make sure that we are aware of all the journalists on the ground and have their contact information so that we can make ourselves available should they have an interest in covering this topic.


BLADE: Will you be attending any of the competitions?

TAYLOR: I will be attending the opening ceremonies but do not plan on buying any tickets to the sporting venues. While I am on the ground in Sochi, it will be important to keep an eye out for the statements and actions that are happening in cities around the world.  I think a lot of people will be demonstrating and coming together to support the LGBT community.  It will be pretty amazing to watch.


BLADE: Good luck Hudson. Be safe.


Team D.C. Sportsfest

Team D.C., the umbrella organization for D.C.-area LGBT sports teams and leagues, held its annual Sportsfest at Room & Board on Thursday. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key) Sportsfest 


Olympics open amid outrage over arrest of Russian LGBT activists

Queer Nation, New York City, New York, Russia, Sochi, homophobia, Winter Olympics, gay news, Washington Blade

Members of Queer Nation NY protested outside the Russian consulate in New York City on Feb. 6, 2014. (Photo courtesy of Queer Nation NY)

The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, officially opened on Friday amid outrage over the arrest of more than a dozen Russian LGBT rights advocates earlier in the day.

Police arrested 10 activists near Moscow’s Red Square who held rainbow flags as they sung the Russian national anthem just before the games opened. Authorities have released the advocates, but reports indicate police beat and threatened to sexually assault them while they were in custody.

Anastasia Smirnova is among the four activists whom St. Petersburg police took into custody on Friday as they tried to march across a bridge holding a banner that read “discrimination is incompatible with the Olympic movement. Principle 6. Olympic charter” in reference to a campaign in support of adding sexual orientation to the Olympic charter.

Officials later released Smirnova and the three other advocates, but they face charges of participating in an illegal public assembly. They are scheduled to appear in court on Saturday.

“Tonight’s about solidarity,” said Ty Cobb, director of global engagement for the Human Rights Campaign, as he read an e-mail from Smirnova at HRC’s Northwest Washington offices during an opening ceremony watch party his organization co-hosted with Team D.C., Capitol Pride and Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies and Pride House International that benefitted the Russian LGBT Sports Federation. “Let them know we stand in solidarity with them.”

Gay figure skater Brian Boitano and lesbian ice hockey Olympian Caitlin Cahow are among the members of the U.S. delegation to the Sochi games. Retired tennis champion Billie Jean King earlier this week dropped out because of her mother’s failing health.

“There is no doubt we wanted to make it very clear that we do not abide by discrimination,” President Obama told NBC’s Bob Costas during an interview that aired before the network broadcast the opening ceremonies.

Some of the Olympic athletes themselves appeared to show solidarity with Russian LGBT rights advocates during the opening ceremony.

Those who gathered at HRC to watch the opening ceremony applauded members of the Greek Olympic team who wore gloves with rainbow tips as they marched into Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi. Dutch snowboarder Cheryl Maas, whose wife is Norwegian, wore a helmet and gloves with a rainbow and unicorn on them during the slope style event in which she competed on Thursday.

A song from t.A.t.U, a Russian band whose members once claimed they were lesbians, played as the Russian Olympic team marched into the stadium during the opening ceremony.

Hudson Taylor, founder of Athlete Ally, unfurled a poster in support of adding sexual orientation to Principle 6 during the opening ceremony. Google on Thursday also changed its homepage to show its support of the initiative.

“It is surreal to be here in Sochi in the heart of the games and learn of the arrest of protesters using Principle 6 messaging,” wrote Taylor on his Facebook page after the Olympics officially opened. “It proves with undeniable clarity that these Russian laws contradict everything that the Olympic Movement stands for. We stand in solidarity with them.”

The International Olympic Committee has repeatedly said it has received assurances from the Kremlin that gays and lesbians will not suffer discrimination during the games. Russian President Vladimir Putin told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos last month those who protest his government’s LGBT rights record will not face prosecution under the country’s controversial law that bans gay propaganda to minors.

“We aren’t banning anything, we aren’t rounding up anyone, we have no criminal punishment for such relations unlike many other countries,” said Putin during a Jan. 17 meeting with Olympic volunteers in Sochi. “We have a ban on propaganda of homosexuality and pedophilia, I want to underline that, on propaganda among minors.”

IOC President Thomas Bach said during his speech at the opening ceremony that people should “have the courage to address your disagreements in a peaceful” way and “not on the back of these athletes.”

“Olympic games are always about building bridges about bringing people together,” said Bach before Putin officially opened the games. “Please respect the Olympic message of good will, of tolerance, of excellence, of peace.”

Human Rights Campaign, HRC, Sochi, Russia, gay news, Washington Blade, Winter Olympics

Hundreds attended a opening ceremony watch party at the Human Rights Campaign headquarters in Northwest D.C. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Those who gathered at HRC to watch the opening ceremony said they wanted to show their support for LGBT Russians.

“It shows our love and support towards our Russian friends,” Team D.C. President Les Johnson told the Blade.

Jessica Strother of Northern Virginia had a similar message as she watched the opening ceremony while holding Russian and U.S. flags.

“I’m here with the flag to promote good will,” she told the Blade. “I came down here to support gay rights for Americans and Russians.”

LGBT rights advocates in New York, Philadelphia and nearly 40 other cities around the world held similar events during the opening ceremony.


The need for speed

Chuck Harney, Bike Rack, gay news, Washington Blade

Chuck Harney at his shop, the Bike Rack on Q Street. (Washington Blade photo by Kevin Majoros)

As a teenager on his high school tennis team in Los Angeles, Chuck Harney had another thing on his mind. He had the need for speed. To fulfill that need, he began competing in downhill and slalom ski racing on Mammoth Mountain.

The thrill of racing down a mountain wasn’t quite enough, so while he was still in his teens, he transitioned to bicycle touring and spent his time trekking along the coast of California, Oregon and through parts of Europe.

“I love to be on my bike,” says Harney, 52. “I love the speed and I love the freedom.”

Harney moved to D.C. in 1991 and began racing in cycling on the local circuit and across the United States as a member of Team DC Velo. In 1994, he struck gold at the Gay Games in New York. He also captured gold in cycling at the Chicago Gay Games in 2006.

Looking for something to add to his cycling, Harney transitioned to triathlons (swim-bike-run), duathlons (run-bike-run) and Xterra off-road triathlons in 1998. He qualified for the World Duathlon Championships and competed for Team USA from 2008-2011.

After taking a few years off, Harney is back on the bike training for the Cleveland Gay Games in August. The Gay Games offers four events in cycling: road race, individual time trial, team time trial and criterium (closed-off short course racing).

As co-owner of the Bike Rack on Q St., N.W. in D.C., Harney always has one foot on the bike. In preparation for the Games, he will be spending a lot of long hours on the bike.

“I will also do race specific training,” he says. “Along with distance work with my teammates, there will be interval training and hill climbing. We will also probably compete in some local races leading up to the Games.”

There are a lot of hazards in the sport of cycling. Most cyclists sport road rash on a regular basis. For Harney, the crashes are just part of the sport, but he did share another hazard he faced at a duathlon race in Columbia, Md., on a very cold December day.

“It was so cold, that I decided to wear leg warmers on the first run,” he says laughing.  “During the run they started coming down and were clumped around my ankles by the time I got to my bicycle. That was my first and last race in leg warmers.”

For the Games in Cleveland, Harney says his focus will be on supporting and hanging out with his teammates from D.C. Velo that will also be competing at the Games.

His competitive spirit emerged when he also added that he was putting a group together for the team time trial that should bring home the gold medal.

The need for speed never dies.


3 reasons why Michael Sam coming out as gay is a huge deal for the NFL

It's hard to overstate how big of a deal this is.