Wyoming athletes beyond Brokeback
by Jim Provenzano
Although enormously popular, and probably a multiple winner at this Sunday's Academy Awards, the tragic love story of the film Brokeback Mountain doesn't reflect the lives of some of today's lesbian and gay residents of Wyoming. When not working for LGBT organizations, they swim, run, play volleyball, and even ride horses as out gay people.
Curtis Mork, activities director for Wyoming Equality (www.uglw.org), is part of a group of people who get together each Sunday at Cheyenne's Unitarian Universalist Church and play volleyball.
"Not everyone that is there is GLBT," said Mork, "but they are GLBT friendly. The church has long been a supporter of our organization." Mork said the volleyball group remains more social than competitive. "For the moment, our group is not competing in any leagues, because we are still working on developing our competitiveness and coordination."
Patrick Nolan, born and raised in Sundance, is an avid horseman and recreational skier. Nolan grew up raising livestock on his parents' ranch in northeast Wyoming, where he visits when not at his home in Laramie.
"Horses are a part of most rural Wyoming kids' life, gay or straight," said Nolan. "I think most people forget [riding] really is a sport, as well as an everyday tool."
Skiing is Nolan's winter sports activity. He also snowboards with a gay friend. "Being in the Rockies, I have access to some of the best snow in the world," said Nolan. "As a person who chooses to live in Wyoming, you have to be somewhat avid in outdoor activities. Summers here are always full of backpacking, rafting trips, daily hikes with the dogs, and bike rides galore. These are the reasons I still live here and have not chosen to move to a bigger, gayer, place."
Nolan also visits his uncle's Soda Butte Ranch, where sheep and ostriches graze. Asked about the relevance of the gay characters in Brokeback Mountain, Nolan says there are real versions of the men portrayed in the film. "As for other gay ranchers, I see them online in the chat rooms sometimes, but they seem to be more hired hands than anything."
Debra East is the sole out lesbian at her regular water aerobics workouts at a Laramie swimming pool, and at 51, one of the youngest participants. "They have been good to me," said East of her swimming partners. "I am out because I have a shoulder tattoo – interlocking women's symbols backed by a pink triangle – that has been asked about, and I answer the question."
East's career includes an impressive array of work, including her diversity training consulting company (www.lezwest.com), and her job as founding director of the Wind River Country Initiative for Youth, which serves cross-cultural LGBT and Two Spirit communities in Fremont County and the Wind River Indian Reservation. Her third job is director of the Wind River Country Chapter of the National Coalition Building Institute (www.ncbi.org).
"We have accomplished trainings that include white people, members of tribes in the area, black African heritage people, Latino heritage people, and some folks who have Asian heritage. Wyoming is 95 percent white. So when we work on diversity, it includes examining our own wide diversity."
Gail Leedy, 52, an accomplished distance runner who has lived in Laramie since 2000, started participating in distance races in 1994. Leedy organized running events as fundraisers for AIDS and other charities in her previous home in Topeka, Kansas, and is on the organizing committee for Laramie's Shepard Symposium for Social Justice.
After moving to Laramie, Leedy joined the Bettys and Bobs, a group of gays and lesbians who enjoyed skiing, hiking, camping, and biking. When that group's membership waned, Leedy joined a non-gay running group. As to being a lesbian, she said other members, "took it in stride. They already knew me as a runner, and weren't terribly upset by my sexual orientation."
Leedy said people have mostly been nonjudgmental, despite the conservative climate of the state. During a recent trail race, Leedy recalls how her partner "asked me if I needed anything and I stopped and kissed her and ran on. The woman standing next to her said, 'I guess that's what she needed.' There was no rancor in her comment; just amusement."
Scott Roberts serves on the board of Spectrum, an LGBT organization, and the Wyoming AIDS Walk. An avid athlete throughout high school in Gillette in track, football, basketball, baseball, tennis, and swimming, Roberts did not come out until after he graduated.
"Being a part of the athletic system in high school was a huge obstacle for me to overcome," said Roberts. "It was one of the main things keeping me in the closet." Roberts later discontinued his pursuits in competitive athletics and came out.
As a student speaker at Laramie's University of Wyoming campus, Roberts has talked about being out and gay. But competing in collegiate sports, despite his skills, is unthinkable, he said, due to homophobia. "Now I just play pick up games in the gym and some intramural sports."
When Leedy co-taught a course on women in sports for a group of freshman students at the university, she said most of them expressed strong disdain for gay people. "The women's intolerance relates to a fear of being assumed to be lesbian because they play sports," she said. "If there are lesbians in collegiate sports, they're closeted. The women don't even want to be seen as feminists."
Leedy said most people think of Wyoming as the place where Matthew Shepard was murdered, and forget about lesbians. "A comment often made by lesbians when coming to Wyoming is that their gaydar goes off constantly," she said. "Many Wyoming women look like they could be lesbians. The 'look' is due to the independence and grit that is required to survive in a place like Wyoming."
Read more sports columns at www.sportscomplex.org.
Pirates and Hustlers, Sharks, Grizzlies, Angels, and Cougars. Chronicles of Narnia? Nope. Gay softball teams! The San Francisco Gay Softball League's opening day is Sunday, March 5, starting with the opening ceremonies at about 11:30 a.m. The all-star game will begin around noon. Both events will be at Crocker Amazon Park. Games will be played on all five fields starting at 9 a.m. until around 5 p.m. Come root for your favorite softball team. I think my favorite team name is "Hold My Beer."
Team SF Gay Games kick-off party
Team San Francisco's quarterly meeting will be held Saturday, March 11 in conjunction with the Team SF/Gay Games kick-off rally at the Eureka Valley Recreation Center. Doors open at 11:30 a.m. and the rally runs from noon to 1:30 p.m. Come see sports demonstrations by many of the Team SF organizations, plus performances from other Gay Games groups. Energy 92.7 will have one of its DJs on hand.
If you're not yet signed up for the Gay Games, you can still register at the event and save $25 off of the base registration fee. You can also renew your Team SF membership of $25 if you have not already done so. This will also be a great time for you to try on and order the Team SF uniform.