Rowers And Rowing Venues In A Changing Political Climate
The United States is undergoing a marked shift in its political ideology as individual states enact a number of laws affecting both the LGBTQ+ community and the broader population.
Florida’s “Parental Rights in Education” bill, more commonly referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, took effect on 01 July 2022. At least a dozen states proposed similar legislation: Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
An 08 July 2022 article in the New York Times examines the explosive rise in book bans across the United States, mostly targeted at LGBTQ+-themed books. The article cites challenges and protests in New Jersey, Arkansas, Illinois, California, Virginia, and North Carolina. At least five states have passed laws that support removing books (that have received complaints) from libraries.
Bans on transgender youth sports participation are codified in eighteen states: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas , Utah, and West Virginia.
These issues point to a geographic landscape that is becoming less and less friendly towards the LGBTQ+ rowers, coaches, and their families who travel to the biggest rowing venues around the East Coast, South, and Mid-West of the United States.
In response, the DC Strokes Rowing Club called for a boycott of the USRowing Masters Nationals Championships at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota County, Florida due to the recently passed “Don’t Say Gay” law. They also implied that USRowing should avoid holding major national regattas, to include championships and trials events, in states with laws unfriendly to LGBTQ+ people to help guarantee their safety and comfort during these events. Boycotting or avoiding holding a regatta in one state, such as Florida, with anti-LGBTQ+ laws would necessitate corollary similar actions for all other states listed above. This would mean that USRowing would not host events in or on: Oakridge, TN; Chattanooga, TN; Harsha Lake, OH; Sarasota, FL; Oklahoma City, OK; and Austin, TX.
A multi-state boycott is a problem for a few reasons. First: USRowing would no longer hold races on the only purpose-built, World Rowing class A course in the country, Nathan Benderson Park. Second: the untenable position would alienate rowers in all those states affected by the boycott. Third, even as a boycott may steer money away from state coffers, it also deprives local LGBTQ+ and LGBTQ+ friendly organizations from revenue they might otherwise receive from the regatta-associated tourism. These businesses are on the front line in local communities, helping to support and promote LGBTQ+ visibility.
A boycott also hands the conservative agenda a victory by removing the presence of LGBTQ+ rowers and supportive rowing community allies at local regattas. It is our view that having a visible presence in a repressive cultural environment challenges people to confront their personal bias and hatred as they interact and discover that the LGBTQ+ rowing community and their allies are their friends, neighbors, and respected, valued members of the larger community.
As an international individual membership organization, the Gay + Lesbian Rowing Federation (GLRF) currently counts 1,747 members in 43 countries of which 1,012 members are located in the United States. Those members live in 46 states and the District of Columbia. While GLRF respects the right of every member to support the DC Strokes call for a boycott, we as an organization must reflect our broader membership by supporting the rowers where they row. Acceptance and inclusion are the most important issues that LGBTQ+ rowers face at clubs, programs, and at regattas. LGBTQ+ youth in particular needs visible examples of their futures selves at rowing venues across the country.
John Olbrys is a member of the Gay + Lesbian Rowing Federation and he rows out of the Potomac Boat Club and serves as the Club Captain.