BY KAYLEE DUFF
Engaging in physical activity is one of the most popular forms of self-care. Columbus has a whole league committed to offering affirming spaces for the LGBTQ+ community to take part in organized sports.
Stonewall Sports is a nationwide nonprofit organization that offers a place for the LGBTQ+ and allied communities to play sports together. It isn’t uncommon for LGBTQ-identified individuals to feel unwelcome or unsafe in traditional sports leagues. After all, homophobia and transphobia (as well as other forms of discrimination) are pretty engrained in organized sports. But sports and other non-competitive physical activities are an important way for people to care for their bodies and meet new friends.
That’s where Stonewall Sports comes in. They offer places free of judgment and fear for people to come and play — everything from dodgeball to yoga. In 2017, a league was started up in Columbus. True Q’s editor talked to Rob Leis, President and Co-Founder of Stonewall Sports Columbus, about the history and benefits of this fun-loving community organization.
Kaylee: Tell me about Stonewall Sports and how the organization started.
Rob: Stonewall Sports was started in 2010 in Washington, D.C., by a pair of guys, Martin and Melvin. They had this idea of bringing together folks in a safe and inclusive space, to play sports and create community. There wasn’t really anything that existed like that prior. What sets us apart from other sports organizations is that we go beyond just playing sports.
Yes, we are organized and play organized sports, and they can get competitive. But the whole purpose behind it is education, outreach and creating an inclusive and safe space for people to get together. We try and ensure that we’re educating folks on transgender inclusion, that we’re trying to be inclusive of people from other socioeconomic statuses. All of that together to bring people together in that community space.
When I was living in Charlotte, I didn’t know anybody. I moved there not knowing a single person. I met some guys and were like, “You should totally join Stonewall Sports.” I was like, “Okay, that sounds like fun.” I had no idea what it was. I joined and had a blast. I started meeting people, and it was just so much fun. The people I played dodgeball and kickball with, our team grew into something like a family. We would hang out. After practices and games, we would go have family dinner. I felt a part of a much larger community, because of this sports organization.
When I moved to Columbus, Stonewall Sports didn’t exist here and there wasn’t anything like it that existed. Based on my experience in Charlotte, I felt like it needed to be here. We started working on bringing it here. We started with kickball last spring. We had 200 people that first season. This past season of kickball, we had 399 players. Now, we’re getting ready to start dodgeball and we have 266 players, which is capacity.
We hear all these amazing stories about people, that this organization helped them to feel comfortable to come out to parents, friends, family. We hear stories about how they feel included. We hear stories about how this did a lot for them as a healing process, from being traumatized in gym class when they were younger. We hear all sorts of stories like that. We’re in 16 cities now, and there are stories like this across the nation, like I met my husband, I met my best friend.
It’s a lot of fun. We play sports because it’s fun, but at the end of the day, it’s about coming together as a community in a safe and inclusive space. Also, as a nonprofit, we take dollars and we try and use that towards education, like how we educate our players on different things. We give money back to local community organizations. In 2018, we raised about eight or nine thousand dollars for Kaleidoscope Youth Center. They’re our primary charitable beneficiary here in Columbus. As we grow as a league, we hope to grow that amount.
Right now, Stonewall Sports in Columbus does just kickball and dodgeball?
Yeah! We’ve also been doing pop-up yoga events. As a holistic national organization, we offer everything from yoga, run club, dodgeball, volleyball, bocce, kickball, flag football. We’re trying to figure out what does the Columbus community want, and one of the things we’ve been experimenting with is yoga. It’s an awesome way to meditate and reset, and it’s also good for the body to stretch out. We offer those for free, for whoever wants to come. We usually have Equitas Health there to do free HIV testing.
How do people join Stonewall Sports?
We have a registration period, a two-week window that starts about six to eight weeks prior to the start of the season. That’s because we need to get everybody registered, we need to get T-shirts ordered, we need to get people sorted into teams. People can register by visiting our website at stonewallsportscolumbus.org.
How does engaging in sports or even non-competitive activities help people’s self-care and their physical or mental health?
There’s definite wellness benefits to playing sports. When you’re able to do it in an inclusive environment where you’re welcomed and accepted, it makes it that much more enjoyable. From a mental standpoint, it’s so much healthier to not have to worry about being misgendered, or made fun of for wearing short-shorts or showing up in drag. Being able to be yourself and express who you truly are, while playing sports — there’s something magical and fun about it, that you can’t explain until you’ve done it.
Ohio has two Stonewall Sports leagues — one in Columbus and one in Cleveland. Visit the Cleveland league online at stonewallcleveland.leagueapps.com for details about their league, events, registration, locations and more!
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