Recognized as the official Pride month, June is filled with parades, races and sports tournaments of all sorts. It’s a fun-filled time most of us don’t think a lot about. However, back in 1969 being outed was a terrifying prospect – something that literally could ruin your life, personally and especially, professionally. But it was a series of spontaneous riots that took place at the Stonewall Inn in New York City’s Greenwich Village neighborhood that laid the groundwork for Gay Pride, what many take for granted today.
Known today as the Stonewall Riots, it’s acknowledged as the first time in American history that the LGBT community rose up in protest against government-approved persecution of sexual minorities. And one of the outcomes of those riots was the creation of Gay Pride, an annual event that proclaims to the world at large that:
1. people should be proud of their sexual orientation and gender identity
2. diversity is a gift, and
3. sexual orientation and gender identity are inherent and can’t be altered intentionally.
LGBT athletes have always played sports but most of them, especially professional athletes, felt they needed to be closeted for their personal and professional protection and safety. As the Pride movement began to grow, gay sports teams and organizations began to be slightly more open. But what really launched gay sports into the public eye was the first Gay Games held in San Francisco in 1982.
Following his experience as an Olympic decathlon participant, Dr. Tom Waddell had a vision of gay athletes being able to experience the same meaningful enjoyment he had gotten from being an Olympian. From that idea of an Olympic-inspired competitive sports festival for the LGBT community was born the Gay Games, using as its banner Waddell’s founding principles of Participation, Inclusion and Personal Best™.
Originally called the Gay Olympics, posters were printed using that title. But the name was changed to the Gay Games after the U.S. Olympic Committee sued Waddell for use of the Olympic name. And on May 15, 1982 one gay transplant from the Midwest by the name of Shamey Cramer walked into the Mother Lode bar in West Hollywood to use the pay phone. When he saw the Gay Olympics poster hanging there, he experienced a life-changing “aha” moment.
“I knew instantly my calling had found me,” Shamey recalls. He’d been a cross-country runner in high school and also had begun cycling, a sport he really enjoyed.” And thanks to prompting and support from U.S. Olympian and human rights lawyer Susan McGreivy, two weeks later he founded Team Los Angeles as they prepared to participate in Gay Games I. He also became a charter member of the International Gay Olympic Association (1982-85) that was created with Dr. Waddell.
It is thanks to the gay athletes-turned-activists like Shamey Cramer (or activists-turned-athletes) who have continued to keep the Pride alive for new generations of LGBT athletes. But it’s also straight or ally athletes who have joined in, declaring to the world at large that sexual orientation and gender identity have absolutely no bearing on an athlete’s ability to play the sports of his or her choosing.
No longer limited to just the gay sports community, it is now the sports diversity community that continues to keep the Pride alive. This expanded sports community truly is diverse, containing professional, recreational and Olympic gay athletes as well as professional, recreational and Olympic straight athletes, all working within their own areas to eliminate the once-inescapable stigma of being a gay athlete. Some make it a life-long commitment to the LGBT community overall, some work specifically in one segment of the community while others face an unexpected problem and become a visible face and voice for sports diversity. Here are three stories illustrating the different approaches by individuals and organizations to the wonderful work that continues to keep the Pride movement not just alive but also relevant.
Shamey Cramer – The Lifelong LGBT Community Activist
Since Shamey’s initial connection to the inaugural Gay Games in 1982, he has continued to be involved in gay community activism, mainly but not limited to a sports connection. At the end of 1985 he was diagnosed as HIV-positive and he says that a combination of good genes, eating well and keeping his body fit has made him one of the few diagnosed in that era who is still alive.
Some of Shamey’s accomplishments include founding the Los Angeles 2006, Inc., a finalist-bid for Gay Games VII, mapping out the route for the first California AIDS Ride in 1992 as well as being a rider and fundraiser for the event. He joined the West Hollywood Aquatics water polo team in 2000 and medaled at two International Gay & Lesbian Aquatics championships playing goalie, even as a fill-in goalie in one competition for the Sydney Stingers Waterpolo team. He’s also an avid cycler.
Shamey even moved temporarily to Washington, D.C. to lobby for passage of the HOPE Act in 2013 that enabled HIV-positive organ donation for transplant use for HIV-positive people. It’s estimated to save 600-1,000 lives a year.
As a member of the Federation of Gay Games board and assembly since 2010, he has traveled the globe in support of the organization’s mission of Participation, Inclusion and Personal Best™. Most recently Shamey returned from Cambodia on a Gay Games promotion tour along with 17-year-old champion diver Jordan Pisey Windle. A Cambodian orphan, Windle was adopted at age two by U.S. citizen Jerry Windle. Hoping to represent the U.S. in the Rio Olympics in August, he’s been trained by a number of top divers, including Greg Louganis.
Chris Mosier – Changing the Rules for Transgender Athletic Competition
One of the most visible and effective change agents for transgender athletes is trans man Chris Mosier. He has always loved sports but he was frustrated by the lack of visible role models for transgender athletes. And as a triathlete and sprint duathlete, he was also frustrated by restrictive transgender competition rules. While he has many other accomplishments to his name, Chris lives his life by the motto he reads every day: “Be who you needed when you were younger.”
Many organizations used the original International Olympic Committee (IOC) transgender competition guidelines that required athletes to change their sex legally, to be on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for at least two years and the most troubling, the requirement to change their sex anatomically by undergoing gender reassignment surgery. But it was Chris’ seventh-place finish in the men’s 35-39-age-category at the Duathlon National Championship in June 2015 that propelled his desire to change the rules for trans athletes into overdrive.
In a ground-breaking moment, Chris earned a spot on the national men’s duathlon team competing for Team USA. But while he was supposedly eligible to participate with his teammates at the 2016 World Duathlon Championship in Spain this month, it was only IF his sport’s governing body, the International Triathlon Union (ITU) changed its eligibility rules.
Fortunately, due to growing medical research data on trans athletes and Chris’ willingness to be a visible role model for other trans athletes, in November 2015 the IOC changed its guidelines for transgender athletes, and the ITU followed suit. Now, for those whose sports use the IOC guidelines, trans athletes will be allowed to compete without having the previously-required external and internal gender reassignment surgeries and their HRT time requirement has also been lowered from two years to one.
This means that Chris is now part of Team USA competing in the spring world championship at the 2016 World Duathlon Championship June 4-5 in Aviles, Spain. And in even better news, Chris has earned his second national team berth at a recent race in North Carolina and in 2017 he’ll be competing in the long-course world championship.
IGLA – Standing Against North Carolina’s Political Homophobia
The International Gay & Lesbian Aquatics (IGLA) organization is considered the world’s foremost international organization promoting aquatic sports for LGBT athletes and their friends. With a long history of inclusion and equality, the organization’s worldwide Master’s-level aquatics divisions include swimming, water polo, synchronized swimming and diving.
This year the U. S. Masters Swimming (USMS) Spring National Championships were scheduled to take place April 28-May 1 in Greensboro, North Carolina, a competition that draws many IGLA members. But when the North Carolina general assembly and governor passed anti-LGBT House Bill 2 (HB2) in March, members realized there was trouble. David Hildebrand and Louis Thorpe, one a current, the other a former member of Team New York Aquatics (TNYA), brought it to the attention of the IGLA board.
Board co-presidents Kris Pritchard from the Washington Wetskins team and Elisabeth Turnbull-Brown from TNYA sent a letter to USMS CEO Dawson Hughes. Recognizing that USMS selects competition sites two years in advance, the group didn’t ask for the competition to be canceled but instead asked USMS to issue a public statement condemning North Carolina’s HB2 law. They also asked that in the future, USMS Nationals bids not be awarded to states with anti-LGBT laws in place and to inform North Carolina of that decision.
Prior to the start of the Nationals competition, Hughes responded positively to their letter, praising the long-standing strong relationship between the two organizations. He also noted that USMS had already been in contact with the host committee and received assurance that all contestants would be protected under the USMS rules that include gender and sexual identity. The organization also said they were including a message regarding the situation in their pre-event email to the approximately 1,800 Nationals participants. (To read both letters in full, go to: www.igla.org/2016/04/letter-to-u-s-masters-swimming-concerning-spring-nationals-in-greensboro-nc/)
And on another front, IGLA member Kristin Gary created a t-shirt logo that read, “H2O NOT HB2. SWIM FOR LOVE. NOT HATE.” Once at the competition she and a very supportive man not part of an IGLA team helped distribute the shirts. Any money collected was donated to an appropriate cause in North Carolina. Kudos to IGLA and its members, both gay and straight for taking an unexpected negative event and addressing it in a positive way by standing up against homophobia.
So during this year’s Pride celebration in your area, whether you’re playing a sport, marching in a parade or just hanging out with friends, please take a moment to give thanks to the Shamey Cramers, Chris Mosiers and IGLAs in our inclusive sports diversity community who have stepped up to the plate. Thanks to them, they’re keeping the Pride alive in 2016 and beyond.
By Connie Wardman
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