Compete Network Feature Stories

Shigeo Iwamiya: Creating Safe, Empowering Spaces for LGBTQ Athletes

Featured in our September/October 2018 issue of Compete Magazine

While we all love knowing about sports superstars, especially the more recent ones from Jason Collins to pro golfer Tadd Fujikawa who have come out, it’s the everyday athletes like Shigeo Iwamiya who are one of the big reasons I love this job! It’s recreational athletes who often sacrifice their time, money, even personal ego to play the sport they love and make it better for everyone – they are the heart of the sports diversity movement.

Born and raised on an American Air Force base in Tokyo, Japan, as a bi-racial person Shigeo says he’s been navigating his way through a mixture of worlds all his life. Having moved to the U.S. in 1994, he earned a Master’s Degree in Education where his life experiences are a perfect fit for his professional life as the Director of Residence Life and Housing at Suffolk University in Boston. But what does all this have to do with sports – LGBTQ sports in particular?

Shigeo loves sports and has been playing and coaching a variety of them all his life. But as a gay man it wasn’t until he found the National Gay Flag Football League’s (NGFFL) New York Gay Flag Football League back in 2011 that he found the home for which he’d been searching. Of that experience, Shigeo has this to say:

“Sometimes I was not Asian enough and other times I wasn’t White enough; I was always looking for ways to find my place. And being part of LGBTQ sports made that connection when I could just simply be myself and accept me for being me and go out there and have fun and play sports. It’s that moment when I realized I need to help others feel the same way I did, which is why I work hard at creating these spaces for people to feel accepted and belong to a community.”

As a natural introvert raised in the polite and reserved Japanese culture where he says he received lots of abuse from his father, it’s through American LGBTQ sports that he learned to change his childhood narrative of not being enough to a new one. He now embraces one that confirms he’s more than enough, saying “I can be whatever I want to be.”

Now having played flag football since 2011, Shigeo calls it “an amazing journey.” And while he’s never thought of himself as a star athlete, he says he’s been lucky enough to be team captain in three different cities (his job requires lots of moves), Denver, Boston and New York where he led his team to the B Division championship at Gay Bowl XIII in Phoenix. He’s also been elected as a director for the NGFFL. True to his caring nature, he said that at last year’s Gay Bowl XVII in his hometown of Boston “I made a commitment to Gay Bowl to not participate with a team at all and simply assist the Host Team and NGFFL to elevate the experience for everyone.”

It went so well that he continued his commitment at this year’s Gay Bowl XVIII in Denver. “I think it’s important for LGBTQ people to be included everywhere, even in non-LGBTQ specific sports. … I feel that we need to be better at using sports as communities to bring people together rather than point out the differences between people.”

So for you, Shigeo Iwamiya and all the other dedicated part-time recreational athletes like you who are using your leadership skills for inclusion, diversity, equality and acceptance both on the field and off, I am in awe of you. From the bottom of my heart I salute and support you for making the world a better place for us all!

By Connie Wardman

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