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Now is the Time for LGBTQ+ Athletes

Now is the Time for LGBTQ+ Athletes
Photo by Luke Fontana

The American sports playing field is becoming more inclusive.

In eighth grade, I made the girls' basketball team, the only team sport I ever played. The irony that at 5 feet 2 inches, I played basketball isn't lost on me. But I was never a jock. I was a musical theater kid better suited to support sports from the stands in my band uniform, blowing my alto saxophone to tunes like Chicago's "25 or 6 to 4" and Fleetwood Mac's "Tusk."

Although I was a proud band geek, like Alison Bechdel chronicles in her new graphic memoir, The Secret to Superhuman Strength, I've had a long relationship with fitness. I've skied, lifted weights, hiked, swum and done aerobics, yoga, barre, spin classes, and martial arts (I have a black belt in karate).

Ultimately, I'm a cyclist. I 'm no racer like those packed together in the Tour de France, but I have grit. I've participated in AIDS/LifeCycle seven times. The 545-mile, seven-day ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles raises funds and visibility to help people living with HIV, and it's where I made several friends who are now my squad, my chosen family. One friend recently joked that cycling is "80 percent of your personality." After a brutal year of lockdown, I don't have to imagine the toll of being barred from doing what I love, what rejuvenates me.

While we were pulling together our sports issue, I couldn't help but reflect on the transgender students who, through bigotry and pandering to the religious right, are being denied the ability to do what they love and to bond with others through sports. More than 70 bills that seek to prohibit trans students from participating in team sports have been introduced in 30-plus states, and the trend shows no sign of stopping as GOP politicians scapegoat trans youth through falsehoods and fearmongering.

There's a battle to be waged on behalf of trans folks to play the sports they love, but we must also celebrate the wins. In our special sports section, we highlight the massive accomplishment by Laurel Hubbard, the New Zealand weight lifter who is the first trans person set to compete in the Olympic Games. We also shine a light on the resilience of Lindsay Hecox, the Boise State University runner who is suing Idaho over its law that bars trans people from competing in a sport under their gender identity.

Just six years ago our cover star, freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy, made history when he came out as gay. In 2018, on the Olympic world stage in South Korea, he kissed his then-boyfriend. Talk about the "thrill of victory" for LGBTQ+ visibility in sports. The following year, I met Kenworthy on the lawn of a high school in Santa Barbara at our lunch stop on day six of AIDS/LifeCycle. He'd kicked off his skis, gotten on a bike, and trained his eye on a cause, ultimately raising more than $200,000 for people living with HIV. In our cover story, he calls out those banning trans folks from sports.

With NFL player Carl Nassib's recent, monumental coming-out, this issue was the right time to celebrate other LGBTQ+ trailblazers as well. While we weren't able to get time with Nassib, we call out to Michael Sam and Ryan Russell, who cleared a path for him in the NFL. And we celebrate the breadth of accomplishments by LGBTQ+ folks in sports and fitness while remaining keenly aware of the need to level the playing field for all.

Yours in storytelling,

Tracy E. Gilchrist

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