By Dirk Smith, M.Sc, SDL (He/Him)

Our managing editor, Dirk Smith, caught up with Rob Tanis-Evons who recently was awarded the Compete Sports Diversity “Community Pillar” award for his involvement and support in the LGBTQIA+ Softball Community. He is known in the LGBTQIA+ softball community as one half of “Rob and Sam” with his partner, Sam Lehman.

 

Dirk Smith 

Hi Rob, thank you so much for doing this! We’ll just jump right in. Can you tell us a bit more about your background growing up, were you involved in sports?

 

Rob Tanis-Evon 

I was not involved with sports. I am athletically declined in a traditional sense, I’d say. Having skied for most of my life and ice skated for a bit; but any organized sport, I didn’t feel like I fit in. So it was tough to get acclimated.

 

Dirk Smith 

But ice skating is athletic!

 

Rob Tanis-Evon 

Absolutely. And I think it’s more recognized these days than 40 years ago, that was a different story. I’m an outdoorsy person, so that tends to be my venue, more so than baseball or softball. I mean, none of that came to my view until I met Sam.

 

Dirk Smith 

I know what you mean, I’m the outdoorsy type as well. I love anything that you can get out and be active. Tell us about you and your husband, Sam Lehman, how did you meet?

 

Rob Tanis-Evon 

So, Sammy and I met in the summer of 1990, our anniversary is June 26th and the nice thing about that anniversary, it was also the day the US government announced marriage equality in 2015. I remember, I got a bunch of messages from friends and people like, “oh, my gosh, you must be so excited.” A lot of very young people were messaging me after I had just posted that it was our anniversary. Completely unbeknown, I had no idea that marriage equality was being passed at that same time. We just proceeded like, this is what we do, we’re together, and it was nice that the rest of the world caught up.

How we did meet was at the dance club. I was out with one of my dearest friends, Heather, who love to dance with me. We were out together at Kurt’s Nightclub in New Haven, Connecticut.  But Heather, who looks like me in girl form, we walk into the club with these big teeth smiles. We see these boys looking and making googoo eyes at us. Like, why are they looking at us? What’s going on? Let’s go dance.

That’s what we were there for. We want we wanted to dance. So, this guy keeps coming up beside us who wasn’t really smooth in his dance moves. His outfit was kind of funny, too. He’s got madras plaid shorts and a striped shirt on, and Heather and I are like, “does this guy got it going on?” And we decided he doesn’t have a clue. But nevertheless, he kept finding himself near us throughout the night but wasn’t saying anything. Heather finally at the end of the night gets to talking to him. I figure he sidled his way beside her. He had just gotten back from Japan, and she’s a huge travel bug, so she comes back to me and said you got to talk to that one. Alright, that’s fine. I’ll do that, and he was very handsome. You have to understand, I was intimidated. But nevertheless, I went up to him and I found myself standing next to him where I just said, nice shorts. Yeah, that was the icebreaker. Then I invited him to come to the beach the next day. So, he gave me his beeper number, very 1990s.In fact, I still have that card by the way with his beeper. But he got lost the next day and couldn’t find it. To this day, he still gets lost, it’s fine, I’m there to guide him. That’s fine. Don’t tell him I said that, but that’s alright.

 

Dirk Smith 

At least you’re with him. So now you can be there to help guide him!

 

Rob Tanis-Evon 

Now, we know where we’re going. He was just so charming, and it felt so organic. It was just so easy. With where I live, my grandfather came here ages ago, and I was taking over the house next. At about six months that we were together, I said, you know about this house, you want to move in. Before I can even finish it, he was like “yes, I want to move in”, and we’ve been together ever since. It just seemed very organic. Like everything just kind of fit.

 

Dirk Smith 

You both have become synonymous with your involvement in the LGBTQIA+ sports community, particularly in softball. Many people look up to you, because of how well you support each other and how well you both work together in this. Can you tell me more about how that came about? What’s your role?

 

Rob Tanis-Evon 

I have come to terms with identifying myself of Rob of “Rob and Sam.” Like, I’m Rob, of Rob and Sam, or Sam and Rob. They’re like, “Oh, right, Sam and you’re that Rob.” So, I’m totally cool with that. I’m happy to be a part of Sam’s legacy. I know he’s not trying to make a legacy, but what he’s done, as I watched him struggle with the idea of coming out and acclimating to the world as a gay man. I struggled with that as well, so I empathize, and I identify with that. It was a different time, of course, but there was nobody that he identified with. I mean, there was me, dancing like crazy to Madonna, but where were the sport guys. Until he found this community and he got introduced to this world of softball, and then allowed me to be introduced to the same world. We have friends that we’ve known for this entire time because of that. It just seemed like the right thing to do. I love him, so I want to be with him, like when he goes to Columbus, Ohio. When people asked me, “what are your travel plans?” And I say things like, “I’m going to Columbus, Ohio in August”. they’re like, “but really?” Yeah. That’s kind of random, but it’s allowed me to see a lot of the United States that I would have no other business seeing if it weren’t for LGBTQIA+ sports

My mission, when we go to the sports things is like, he’s all sports. So, I set out to find the culture of that area in particular. We go to my nights, usually the first night, we’ll go to a particular restaurant or do a particular activity, whatever that may be. We go to Las Vegas every January for the Sin City Classic, and it’s a perfect example.  Like, our existence could be the strip and the baseball fields, or football fields now. But first day, we’re going to go hiking at Red Rock Canyon. We’re going to go see these beautiful things that Las Vegas has, then I found like a lakeside bistro. In Las Vegas, who would have ever thought you would be able to eat a steak, on the edge of a lake, in Las Vegas? I found it.

So then when I go, I invite anybody who, in the whole tournament, is there early to join us. Let’s go hiking, let’s go have lunch and let’s build that fellowship. That fellowship is probably going to take me to all those restaurants anyway for the team dinner and things of that nature. So, I know, there’s plenty of that, but I find another way as well. In Seattle, I got to hike in the Cascade Mountains, and we found a ghost town up in the Cascade Mountains. There, I find the silver lining somewhere outside the fellowship of the sporting community, which is so great because, you get to visit these places and experience things that the trip gives you a reason to go there.

 

Dirk Smith 

Maybe you didn’t have a reason to go to Columbus, but now you do.

 

Rob Tanis-Evon 

Yeah, and for one of Sam’s birthdays, we had a conference to go to in Las Vegas. I don’t mean to harp on Las Vegas, but I was determined to go to the Grand Canyon. So, I secretly packed his hiking boots in the suitcase, and I woke up super early, very excited. I was about to have my second cup of coffee and I woke him up. I said, “okay, honey, I’m not going to leave you for your birthday, and we haven’t come this far to not go inside that Canyon.” So, the adventure that we had that day was to hike down into the canyon, we spent the next nine hours, and it was spectacular. It was unplanned and we were going with the flow. It was amazing and one of the best birthdays.

 

Dirk Smith 

And he enjoyed the experience?

 

Rob Tanis-Evon 

Loved it. Loved it. Loved it.  I dragged him into my world as much as I get pulled into his.

 

Dirk Smith 

Your career is in fashion? Can you tell us more about your involvement there and how it came about?

 

Rob Tanis-Evon 

That’s a good question. I have no idea and I think everyone slipped on the question like, “how are you in fashion? Like, I don’t know guys, I literally step backwards into it.” When Sammy and I met, I was working in a ski shop here in Connecticut. That was very 1990s with a lot of neon colors, windbreakers, stuff like that. Which has come back, by the way. It’s just wonderful to me but I’m not telling anybody that I remember doing it once before. I worked for the Gap after that, which was totally hot, Gap was everything back in the mid-90s. The company that I’m with now is Giorgio Armani who, by the way, is my hero. If there is any person on earth that I admire, more than Sam. And of course, Eric Carlyle, Eric is top notch through my life. Right there.

 

Dirk Smith 

Gotta suck up to the boss a bit, right?

 

Rob Tanis-Evon 

[Laughing] No, I know, he doesn’t even require that. He just he inspires me to want to do more because he does so much. So, Armani people found me at the Gap, and they tried to recruit me for a year, saying “you should come work with us.” And I’m like, “I’m fine. I’m good, I’m here at the Gap. I’m drinking Gap late right now.” Which, it’s the 90s you know. But, about a year later, I finally said, “okay, fine.” I’ve been with Giorgio Armani ever since.

 

Dirk Smith 

Oh, fabulous. Have you gotten to meet him, the actual Giorgio Armani?

 

Rob Tanis-Evon 

Oh, gosh, yeah. It’s a small family business, like, it’s a huge global business run by a family. He is employee number one, and everything goes by him. He’s got that vision, he loves New York, and New Yorkers, and so I’m proud to be part of that.

 

Dirk Smith 

It’s great that you found that kind of a job that you really enjoy with a great workspace, great coworkers, and everything.

 

Rob Tanis-Evon 

Sammy drags me to; I’m saying drag and I’m being cheeky. So don’t take this the wrong way. I have the opportunity to go to Columbus, Ohio and then I dragged Sam to Paris for couture week. So that’s the Yang in the Ying Yang.

 

Dirk Smith 

I figured when you said drag, you’re going out in full drag, kind of thing.

 

Rob Tanis-Evon 

Well, there’s that too, because you have to get dressed. We were literally about to go off to the show. And he said, “do I have to go”? I like to quote Devil Wears Prada. Like, “do you know how many people would die to be in your shoes right now? Yes, you’re going the car is waiting, put on the velvet blazer and let’s go!” Of course, he handled it like a champ. Like, he’s there helping me. We have a client that’s with me and he’s got photos of Mr. Armani that are better than any photo that I ever had. He fit perfectly well in that environment.

 

Dirk Smith 

He seems like the kind of guy that, once he’s there, he’s fine. You just have to give him that little push to do it. It’s good that you’re able to complement each other in that way.

 

Rob Tanis-Evon 

It’s amazing to me, I can’t tell you how lucky I feel to have Sammy in my life. He’s given me the opportunity to be involved in sports in my life. I still don’t understand sports well enough and I ask far too many questions, because I want to know. Lucky for me, I have a lot of friends of his that are willing to help me with these questions. There’s a photograph of me at the Yankees game as Sam had box seats behind right field, and there was a fly ball coming. My cousin had been watching the game online and all of a sudden, I get a screenshot of this photograph of the game that I literally just witnessed in front of me. Like, the ball drops in front of me, in front of the wall and we’re right at the front of the wall. The photograph, it tells everything. So the ball is coming directly towards me, people are diving either towards the ball or away from the ball and I’m just literally sitting there, in my Armani suit, like “what’s going on?” Oblivious to the true nature of it and I loved every minute of it.

 

Dirk Smith 

Everybody else is reacting in some way and you’re just like, “oh, hi”. Love it! So, you’re being honored with the Compete Sports Diversity Community Pillar award. How does that feel?

 

Rob Tanis-Evon 

Wow! I started crying. I was like, “wait, what?” I didn’t expect that. I mean, I’m not in it for anything of that nature. But I am honored. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that. Yeah, it was beautiful, and Eric really had some kind words to say. I’m listening to him and I’m thinking, “well, that’s a really nice words” before he’s about to give the award. Then he said my name and I just found out. It got me all choked up. I was just I like, boom, the tears started coming. I could cry now. It was wonderful. It. I don’t know why it makes me cry, but I’m not in it for the award. I’m in it because of the man I love. It brings my man and I joy. So why wouldn’t I?

 

Dirk Smith 

That’s wonderful. You’re there because he loves it, and you love him, and you love it.

 

Rob Tanis-Evon 

Of course. I know there’s some cheeky comments that come around, like, “where are your pompoms?” You know, no pompoms here, no short skirt, but I’ve got the first aid kit.  I know how to nurse after the fact. But I do like to say, “I give a perfectly healthy human being to you at the beginning of a tournament and then return you give me a shell of a human being” and I just nursed him back to that, so next time he’s ready to go. Now, that’s what I will say, Sammy does let me play with him now. Mostly pickleball. So, we are now a pickleball duo. We’ll see what that brings, I’m really getting good. Coaches have been very generous with me and helping me despite having no racket or paddle sport experience. Now, I’m getting my feet on the ground for pickleball.

 

Dirk Smith 

You’re catching up, you’re going to get there and it’s going to be awesome.

 

Rob Tanis-Evon 

Perfect timing, I wanted to bring pickleball to Sin City Classic, so maybe I’ll have my hand in that.

 

Dirk Smith 

You totally should. I was instrumental in helping to bring swimming to the Sin City Classic. The way that they organize it, like “oh, you want to have a sport? Yes, we’ll do that, but you have to organize it and then we’ll attach it to the program and make it happen.” So, you can totally do that with Pickleball.

 

Rob Tanis-Evon 

Yeah, I’m ready. I and I understand it. I put my money where my mouth is, with Sam’s experience and my love of the sport, I think it’s going to happen.

 

Dirk Smith 

That’s really great to hear too. A lot of your involvement has been through your husband, but now you can find your own and you can carve out your own niche in that as well. It’s you and your husband doing it together.

 

Rob Tanis-Evon 

We’ve really grown together, our careers, everything has gotten us to the point where we are now. We get to share the everything that we’ve been able to accomplish, especially with our friends and our family.

 

Dirk Smith 

That’s wonderful! So, what is next for you?

 

Rob Tanis-Evon 

Anything, it’s like, there’s nothing that I can go out there into the world and try to get for myself that’ll bring me as much joy as what I feel when I’m just being of service. Like, this award is a perfect example. That just filled me up and wasn’t even going for that award.  Like, wasn’t trying to win an award. Same thing applies. That’s has been our path. You know, Sammy went from just showing up at baseball games, not ever thinking about who had to set it all up and what rules came before him to make it possible. So, to be the person that makes it possible for the next generation to come through and I’m happy to be part of that journey. I just keep finding ways and means of giving back what was given to me freely.

Dirk Smith 

Love it! We’re all excited to see you again at this years Sin City Classic as well as other events!