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LGBTQ-Sports Group Says Representation Key to Inclusivity

team rawr cheers
Dylan Jones, here with team #Rawr, says she and others she knows would not have joined the league if it weren’t queer-centered. “I can come out and have a rainbow fan, and scream ‘yaas queen’ on a Sunday and have a good time and not be worried about my safety. [...] And I think for a lot of us, especially non-white queer folks, the experience of having something directly and intentionally for you is not something that we get very often.” (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Five years ago, a group of friends in Richmond went to an LGBTQ-centered kickball tournament in  Washington, D.C. The event, organized by the founding chapter of Stonewall Sports, inspired them to bring the idea home. 

One of those friends, Tommy Otterbine, says they played teams from smaller cities, like Wilmington, North Carolina, and slightly larger cities, like Greensboro, North Carolina. After the tournament, Otterbine questioned why these cities had gay leagues but Richmond didn’t.

With support from the D.C. league, the friends started a Richmond-based chapter in 2017. Otterbine, who now serves as vice president of the national Stonewall Sports executive board and also represents Richmond on the board of directors, said the process showed him there was so much more to the league than sports.

“Sports is just the vehicle that brings people together. It’s not what keeps people together,” Otterbine said. Stonewall Sports is a unique social sports league in that it not only caters to a queer audience, but is also a non-profit organization that gives back to the LGBTQ community. 

The first chapter, founded in 2010, took its name from the Stonewall Uprising of 1969. After a June 28 police raid targeted the Stonewall Inn, a bar known for serving the gay, lesbian, and trans community in New York City, the LGBTQ community organized a series of demonstrations that sparked LGBTQ activism and led to the recognition of June as Pride Month.

In that tradition of activism, the group has raised over $50,000 for community partners, including Side by Side, Diversity Richmond, Nationz Foundation and the Health Brigade, since its inception. This year, the Richmond chapter is sponsoring Black Pride RVA.

Marquis Mapp, the community director of Stonewall Sports Richmond, is in charge of partnerships. He says they had over one hundred volunteers work in food banks and drives during the pandemic. And he’s also worked with LGBTQ leaders across the state to ensure Richmond city government is “using a lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion, especially when it comes to our trans brothers and sisters.”

Players appreciate being in a league where the spectrum of gender identities are embraced. Eli Coston, an assistant professor in Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, says playing in a queer-centric league is a relief, comparing it to their CrossFit experience, where they often found themselves forced to participate in tournaments based on the sex they were assigned at birth. 

At Stonewall, “It doesn’t matter what gender identity you are. We’ve all got our name and pronouns on our shirt, and people get it, and they try really hard to get it right,” Coston said.

Although Stonewall Sports has a strong DEI focus now, that wasn’t always the case. The risk management director of Stonewall Sports, Becca Kohn, recalled her first impression.

“I remember seeing their print-out-flyers at Babes before they started and I picked it up,” Kohn said. “And it was all white, cis, men. Like that was on the poster.”

When Kohn was asked to join a mostly female-identifying team she jumped on the opportunity, but notes they were an outlier at the time: “We were probably the only team that had more than, I don’t know, three non-men on the team.” 

Oswaldo Salinas is another player who didn’t have the best first impression. “I actually saw it online for the first season, but I didn’t think that it was for me based on the members at that point,” he said.

A change at the top made a big difference, says Mapp.

“Previously we only had like one or two people of color, very few women, and now, we are very split,” Mapp said, with a board that’s almost 50% composed of people of color. He says it’s “great to see,” adding, “And that was very intentional.“

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