By David “Dirk” Smith, M.Sc., SDL (He/Him)
DS: Let’s catch up! What all has been going on with NAGAAA, Gay Softball World Series and the overall season so far this summer?
JD: From a member association standpoint, the summer is crazy due to geographical locations where teams have been done with their qualifying season such that they tend to refer it as they spring or summer session. They finish their league finals earlier on the West Coast typically and then more Midwest and East Coast who are just about done wrapping up their seasons and are finalizing their rosters. By this point, they are determining and solidifying their teams and determining who is going to be attending the NAGAAA Gay Softball World Series (GSWS). The GSWS involves a lot of work, gathering the team rosters, putting together the entry fees that the teams provide, hotel deposits, player ratings that they have to include on the player rosters. From a team standpoint, they are starting to plan their travel their hotel through the summer, making sure that confirm who is going and who isn’t going, etc. There is quite a bit going on in that regard that we are in the middle of, so it’s an exciting time to celebrate our community, our diversity, recognize our similarities and differences. That’s pretty much what’s happening from a player standpoint.
DS: What about from your standpoint?
JD: From a NAGAAA executive board standpoint, controlled chaos. What I mean by that is NAGAAA is celebrating its 45th year anniversary this year and we are the largest LGBTQ+ sports organization in the world. We are really excited about that, and we have 48 member associations that represent us throughout all North America, that’s over 19,000 players. We are excited to welcome four new member associations at the GSWS who will present for membership, Huntsville, Alabama, Raleigh, North Carolina, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. What’s even more awesome is that there are more cities that are expressing interest to start the process of becoming member associations, Mexico City, London, Puerto Rico, even though they’re not part of the US they are expressing interest in starting a league. The most exciting one we’ve had recently is Hawaii reached out and have already started their first season this year. They’re looking to apply for membership by the end of next year to come in for the 2024 GSWS. We have a lot of expansion going from the NAGAAA executive board, which is built with local elected individuals, committee chairs, the local host group, and many other roles, all of which is run entirely by volunteers.
DS: It goes to show just how passionate you all are. It’s not easy to do this work and it takes a lot of time and effort outside of your normal lives. It speaks volumes that you’re willing to do it without any external incentive, like getting paid and is reflective of how much you believe in the mission of NAGAAA.
JD: These are the coaches, board members in our community, whether they’re allies or part of the LGBTQ+ community, that give up vacation time to spend countless hours raising money or searching for partnerships to help fund the travel. I think the biggest reason why all of us do this is that NAGAAA is more than just softball, while the softball maybe piqued people’s interest initially, it’s become so much more. I think back in 1977, our founders looked at this as a safe haven during a time when equal rights were about preventing physical harm to individuals, preventing legal actions against people in our community who had nowhere to express themselves freely and proudly without loss of job, feeling threatened or facing prosecution just for being gay. With everything that’s going on in our political world, from a physical health standpoint, with COVID, and all these other things, NAGAAA has continued to be a place that’s a safe haven to where people can come and be themselves. Right now, more so than ever and just as important as it was back in 1977.
DS: That shows the power of sports as well, especially in times where the LGBTQ+ community has had to self-organize these kinds of collective communities regarding safety and being able to live openly and exist freely.
JD: I want to give a shout out to our, our fellow LGBTQ+ sports diversity leaders. We tend to categorize ourselves as a community, such as the bear community, trans community, gay community, drag community, etc. There’s so much different representation and ways of expressing ourselves, even within LGBTQ+ sports and everybody is so focused on trying to develop and maintain their own sport. In the last few years when I came in as commissioner, I was attending different conferences, diversity summits, and meeting fellow sports leaders that I already knew through passing but now more so on a professional level. Leaders such as Angela with ASANA, we’ve become great friends and became a resource for each other. We’re not sharing deep details about our association, directions, or initiatives., instead it’s really that we want to celebrate everybody’s successes and coexist. Same with Shigeo from NGFFL who another great friend of mine and the entire NAGAAA board. We’ve also engaged and talk over the last few years, Mark over with National Gay Basketball Association. I mean, we really have, and the list goes on and on. We made it a point to show our membership that there doesn’t have to be division among sports. We’re found that many of our members play multiple sports. People that play in ASANA and NAGAAA also do dodgeball, kickball, and basketball. We want to make sure that no players ever feel as if they must pick and choose what their love is, they can be part of all.
DS: That’s amazing to hear that you keep the competition for the sports field and don’t feel the need to compete with other organizations. Everybody’s got the same mission, it’s all about supporting each other and lifting each other up. That’s how we can really be a community. I wanted to ask you, it’s the 45th anniversary of NAGAAA, are there any special celebrations events planned to honor that?
JD: We have a logo and promotions that are going to be specific to the 45th year anniversary that will be revealed at the Gay Softball World Series in Dallas. There are some exciting things also during the Gay Softball World Series, we have some guest speakers that are going to be coming in at different portions of the week. One of the things that we will focus on is the understanding that a part of our community continues to struggle and how we can help support them. The transgender community has been a focal point of a lot of states and even countries passing anti-trans legislation to take away rights or restrict their visibility, right to choose of how they want to potentially transition or live in a day to day in our in society. One of the things that we’re doing is, during our meetings that kick off the World Series is that all delegates will have badges that will show what their pronouns are. It’s encouraged for all presentations and speakers to come up and share their name, what organization they’re with and to share pronouns. We also have some other exciting things; I can’t reveal quite yet but are very exciting. Especially surrounding our lineup of speakers who are from the trans and BIPOC communities. While we are here to play softball, we have an opportunity to use our platform and connect with our community to confront these issues. We must remember that we can’t just forget about everybody else who is continuing to struggle and who are a target focal point by those that oppose our community and our rights. So, we’re trying to make more effort and be a little bit more aware of that, while still throwing a massive softball tournament and making sure that competition is still a primary focal point.
DS: I really applaud you for taking on that initiative, it’s very important and there’s a lot of work to be done. I appreciate you taking the time to share all this with me!
JD: I want to thank all of you at Compete Sports Diversity, Eric, yourself, and the entire team. All the support that NAGAAA has received over the years is greatly appreciated and the platform that you give to bring awareness of us, share our stories, our message, our accomplishments, and our struggles. It is something that is so important. A lot of times any media outside of our community is usually negative and it’s always on how we’re not doing something or something that should not be done, taken away, withdrawn, or redacted. So, it’s great when we have media like Compete Sports Diversity that comes out and says we need to bring more positive awareness to LGBTQ+ sports. I am honored to be in this role and on behalf of the entire executive board, we are super excited about the experiences that are going to take place this week of the GSWS. More memories, more photos, more items to just share, more teams, more cities coming in. We’re ready and anxious to see our family all back together again in Dallas, Texas for the 45th year.
Check out the 2022 Gay Softball World Series coming up August 29th – September 3rd at https://www.dallasgsws.org/ and the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance at https://www.nagaaasoftball.org/
Photo Credit: NAGAAA