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

Our managing editor of sports, David “Dirk” Smith recently caught up with the founder of United Sports Seattle, Brian Hawker, to learn more about his work in promoting cross connection and intersectionality within the LGBTQ+ sports community, developing sport programs for LGBTQ+ youth and the 2023 Gay Bowl.

Dirk Smith (DS): Jumping right into things, United Sports Seattle and Gay Bowl Seattle had tagged Compete Sports Diversity in a number of posts related to an online auction. Tell me more about that!

Brian Hawker (BH): Yeah, it’s one of our primary fundraisers right now. We’re running an online auction online course with a lot of  really great stuff donated to us from a bunch of teams, organizations, and individuals. For example, the Seattle Seahawks have given us an awesome “Game Day Experience” which includes tickets within the Toyota Reserve Club which are great seats, almost on the field, it’s inclusive of food and drink, and includes a “pregame event”, it’s very swanky and the star of our show. We’ve got tickets for the Seattle Storm and the Seattle Kraken, we’ve got a concert, we’ve got Alaska Airlines tickets as well. We are also auctioning off a bunch of Seahawks swag and autographs, so like I said, a lot of really good stuff. We’ve been running it all month which is part of our fundraising strategy leading up to Gay Bowl. The next big item is a one-of-a-kind experience that we’re going to build. It’s a seven-day cruise for two on Holland America anywhere they cruise to, Alaska, Mexico, in the Caribbean, Canada, New England and includes two tickets on Alaska Airlines to get to the port of call.

DS: Speaking of Gay Bowl, tell me more about that. This is Seattle’s first time hosting the Gay Bowl, right?

BH: Yep! First time we’re hosting which is super exciting and we’re working on promoting it highly throughout the city. Seattle is such an inclusive city and also a big sport city, so we’re letting them know that the games are free to attend and volunteer. We’ve had promo tables at the Mariners’ Pride Night and other events as well as a couple coming up. So, we’re getting the word out, it’s a great opportunity to see another take on the sport and be part of a national event. We’re showcasing the city of Seattle as a World Port City, but also showing what Gay Bowl and LGBTQ+ sports is all about too. We’re excited to be the first Gay Bowl to have an event hosted at an NFL stadium with our opening party being at Lumen Field, hosted by the Seahawks. We’ve invited some cheerleading groups and pep squads, we’re inviting local music groups, bands, and others to come on out to build a big pep rally kind of feel. I think that’s going to help set us apart.

What’s really exciting also, particularly for womens+ participants are that the Seattle Reign gave us tickets for all of our womens+ participants to attend their match on Friday, October 6. This is the first time ever in Gay Bowl history where we were invited to incorporate professional sports programming into the program. It’s just, it’s phenomenal. Our mantra is that we want Gay Bowl Seattle to set a new standard for all future host cities, that’s our North Star with this. It’s all about building out that experience and getting involved, so I’m excited my team and I are doing to make that happen. We’re going to have a uniquely Seattle experience, especially with the inclusion of the Seahawks, our closing party is going to the Showbox SoDo, which is a historic theater in downtown, and just a litany of other fun.

DS: That really amazing to have the support of so many professional sports teams. I know the NFL has been gradually getting more involved in Gay Bowl and the National Gay Flag Football League and various capacities for quite a while now. But to host a Gay Bowl event at the stadium and to have the involvement from the other professional sports teams and groups as well. This is a big deal. It’s also really exciting to see many groups and people within the community itself who aren’t part of the football league, coming out and showing their support to make sure that this event is success. That’s fantastic!

BH: Recently I met with members of the local Queer theatre group and burlesque group, we’re going to do some cross advertising with them, including advertising in each other’s programs and hopefully encourage people from both groups to attend each other’s events. We’re also hoping to get them to come and perform during the Gay Bowl, such as at the closing party. Burlesque is very turned out, I had never realized that just how many Burlesque shows there are, it’s quite big. Coming off of Gay Bowl Hawaii last year, they put on a phenomenal event, and we can’t compete with that, but we can focus on offering the best of who we are as well.

DS: It’s also important to share that culture, even if it’s not an “official” Gay Bowl event. I know when I visit cities and attend these kinds of events, I like to experience the local culture myself as well, outside of the main event. I’ve attended some amazing events in amazing places, including Hawaii and Seattle and they are equally amazing, in their own ways. The Gay Games in Cleveland was just as amazing as the Gay Games in Paris, but the two couldn’t have been more different if they had tried. So yeah, you don’t try to compete with them, you just build up the experience as you know it best based on your unique qualities as a host city.

BH:  So, I’ll cancel that order for beach sand and sangrias?

DS: Yeah, probably a good idea! [laughs]

BH: With these kinds of events, you have many people who are attending, for many it’s their first time ever, and you want them to be able to have that very unique experience that’s going to set it set a stage for them to want to come back. But you also want to be able to have that great quality experience that’s really going to be memorable for those who’ve attended these kinds of things in the past. With this tournament, where the entire focus is about the experience and making sure that we think through the player experience, the official experience, and most importantly, the general fan experience. We want them and to be able to be part of the larger conversations, when we talk about events, when we talk about the field, or we talk about any of the things. It’s part of that conversation.

DS: That’s a big thing, with many people attending this event for the first time, it’s going to influence and shape their whole relationship with sport and the LGBTQ+ sports community from there on out. So, it’s great to hear you are focusing on ensuring that experience will be top notch.

BH: Indeed! For us, we’re not actually a flag football league ourselves organizing this, United Sports Seattle is a nonprofit with focus on the support and promotion of LGBTQ+ and youth sports. We’ve expanded that to also include the ability to help these types of local organizations and programming that they want to be able to do that they want to aspire to do but often they don’t have the capacity without it impacting their core program. With my United Sports Seattle, being able to come in and build a planning committee that includes people from the local league, or who were prior players or officials. But then we’ve also got people who are from other sports or are not even from the sports world at all, but who are rockstars in what they do. So, we’re able to really approach this I think very differently. I want this to be a springboard to show other organizations that I may not be have that same affiliation with like I do with football. Come out, come to us when you have these kinds of ideas, and we’ll work together and see what we can do. Ultimately, it’s not about United Sports, Seattle, it this is all about the sport, the local league, and helping enable that.

DS: There’s so much power in that because the LGBTQ+ sports community is huge. There’s literally an LGBTQ+ sports organization for every sport that I’ve ever seen, and you can find it somewhere in the world. I know Seattle has a lot of different sports that it offers.

BH: Exactly. We should be working together and for each other. One of the things I noticed as Commissioner of the flag football league, all the sports are very siloed and occasionally, there might be that reach out to the others, but very rarely, someone points out that there’s a need here for that kind of connectedness between the different sports. And so being able to do that is part of what United Sports Seattle is. I’ve done this kind of interviews and stuff, and people are going to like, “but your organization also talked about the youth, where does that come in?”

DS: Well, you did bring up the youth, where does that come in?

BH: One of our future goals, is partnering with the You Can Play project because we really want to get into that space of promoting exercise and sport in school programs and other recreational programs. Helping them create individual programming for you, working on making sure that kids that who identify as LGBTQ+, or are from one of those households are able to get engaged in sports. There is a lot of stigmas that still happens in sports, and it sucks. Especially in areas like football where it becomes an environment strife with toxic masculinity, and there can be a lot of negativities. But sport offers so many benefits, aside from just the physical health and the activity side, a lot of my teamwork and leadership skills came from playing football and from being a swimmer. Learning how to operate in something bigger than just myself and the fact that so many of these kids are left out of that experience, it’s an injustice to them and that’s something that hopefully, we can make some inroads in.

DS: I recently interviewed Salem Lemmon from the Rain City Soccer Club, they talked about how a lot of these adults are joining these LGBTQ+ sports leagues now, but one of the biggest barriers that makes it inaccessible is that a lot of these program assume that these people can already have the skills and competencies to play, only to realize that they don’t. They never learned to play as a kid due to these hostile environments in sport that led LGBTQ+ youth to quit or kept them from starting. For many, they can have an inclusive Sports Club, but if nobody knows how to play a sport, that doesn’t really matter, because without an athletic development program to teach people how to play, the club can’t succeed. You never know when the smallest impact can have a big effect, like the almighty butterfly.

BH: It also gives us that opportunity, to provide alternative programming for straight kids and help raise their emotional IQ level by making them aware of the differences of people at an earlier age and expand their ability to be more accepting of people who are different. We’ve made a lot of progress but we’re experiencing a lot of setbacks right now, especially against the trans community and drag queen culture, and it’s worrisome to be hearing about these things. So our hope is to help build up more inclusion and diversity in sports from the beginning.

DS: Awesome! How can people find you?

BH: Find us on social media @UnitedSportsSeattle and our website