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Queer sports gain a major foothold in Baltimore

Aug 14, 2023

On a warm Friday night in May, the Movement Hampden gym is bustling.

A few people are playing pool and some are in the weight room, but most are in the large bouldering terrain area, with its bouncy cushioned flooring and massive craggy structures that stretch from floor to ceiling, dotted with colorful handholds and footholds.

Heather, 31, tall and pony-tailed, is here with Baltimore Queer Climbers, a group that meets at the gym once a month. She heard about Queer Climbing Nights through a friend, and decided to add them to her other climbing activities.

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"The fact that there are queer people around makes it feel nice and safe," she says.

Heather is hanging out with Lindsey, 25, who doesn't drink and "pretty much figured out I was queer right before COVID," she says. Eager to meet people as the pandemic waned, she "looked specifically for queer climbing in Baltimore."

A few years ago, that quest might have ended after a futile Google search. Not anymore.

Queer sports are, increasingly and happily, a thing. And they seem to have found a warm welcome in Baltimore.

These groups, teams and leagues, which typically connect people through social media, are specifically for LGBTQ+ athletes, but don't discriminate based on gender, sexuality, age or athletic ability.

"We are always welcoming of allies," says Rebecca Winslow, founder of Queer City Sports. "It's always been our stance. That being said, we were created to be a safe space for the queer community connect."

In addition to Baltimore Queer Climbers, Charm City is home to Queer City Sports, which fields teams playing softball, touch football, kickball, basketball, bowling and volleyball; and the Baltimore chapter of Stonewall Sports, which offers kickball, dodgeball and other sports.

Nationwide, the United States Gay Sports Network, a directory for LGBTQ+ sports, lists some 750 leagues in cities all over the country, according to its founder, Tyler Foerster. And he expects the numbers to grow.

"The trend that I’ve seen is that the more and more coming out stories you hear, especially in professional sports leagues, the more confident players are to join these local leagues," he says by email. "And even better, the more leagues that form, the more leaders emerge to help run these organizations."

Those are leaders like Winslow, who started Queer City Sports in 2018 after a couple of her favorite lesbian bars closed. Without those gathering spots, she says, "Our community became fractured, and we thought about how we could bring people together."

The obvious answer was sports. "I love sports and I think they’re a great uniter," she says.

Winslow put a note in the Young Queer Women of Baltimore Facebook group asking if anyone wanted to start a softball team. In no time, 20 strangers had signed on for a summer of swings, strikes and stolen bases as the Hub Caps, a team competing in a women's softball league in Dundalk.

"We didn't win a single game but we had an absolute blast," says Winslow. "From there, we decided to do football."

Now, Queer City Sports coordinates a full calendar of games and events, including a "Gym Class Heroes" competition with retro games like dodgeball and scooter ball.

"The community we’ve built has been incredible," says Winslow. "I’ve had so many people come up to me and say they moved to the city, didn't know anybody, joined a league, and now their support system and friend group has come out of the connections they’ve made."

Mer Parra, who moved from Texas to Baltimore in 2016, founded Baltimore Queer Climbing in 2019 because she wanted a group like that for herself. "It's an opportunity for queer people to meet and enjoy a sport together," she says. "People want to feel welcomed and they like doing something with people who understand who they are."

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