When we first started talking about hosting an Outsports Reunion at a Pride event, we were hoping for a few dozen athletes and coaches to join us, break some bread, share some stories and maybe march in a parade together.
What transpired over the last few days in Chicago shattered all of our expectations.
Over the course of four days at Chicago Pride, about 75 LGBT athletes, coaches, executives and members of the media joined us in an exercise of bonding that reaffirmed our community and strengthened bonds forged largely on Facebook.
We intentionally designed the weekend around storytelling and conversation because we believe those are the most powerful tools we have to building and expanding our community. On Friday, attendees shared their personal stories with one another in one-on-one and small-group settings. Sharing those experiences -- and some laughs and tears -- built immediate bonds that carried through the entire weekend. We learned about growing up gay in Brazil, starting gender transition moments before an NBA press conference, opening the floodgates for teammates to come out, acceptance in Arkansas... and that at least one person thinks Patricia Nell Warren wrote The Hunger Games in 1974.
Simply by sharing their stories the athletes, coaches and other LGBT sports attendees learned from one another and had a blast.
One of our most powerful takeaways was how everyone got along and connected regardless of age, race or gender. While a plurality of the attendees were white men in their 20s and 30s, the differences between the attendees faded when sharing stories -- and not lecturing about diversity -- were put front-and-center. The differences among the group quickly faded behind what make us similar, what make us a community. This will be the template for all future Outsports events.
We think MLB intern Spenser Clark may have said it best:
Words cannot fully express how much this past weekend meant to me. For the first time in my life I felt normal; I didn't feel like an outcast. The people I met and the stories I heard will forever remain on my mind and in my heart. These are some truly remarkable people doing remarkable things in the world. This weekend made me love myself in ways that I didn't think I could.
Walking in the Chicago Pride parade was the experience of a lifetime and showed me that love is stronger than hate. This experience empowered me and challenged me to be myself all the time because you never know who is watching. Share your story and live your truth. I already miss singing Beyonce in the streets and lighting up Boystown at night. Until next year my queens!
The sharing of stories, and the shared experiences this weekend across the group, will result in more of them sharing their stories publicly. We already know of three great attendees working on sharing their stories publicly as we write this. We know of several more athletes with whom we connected in Chicago who will now come into the fold. The power of sharing between the attendees this weekend will be felt for a long time.
Some things we'll never forget from this weekend:
- The incredible folks at the Center on Halsted, especially Eric Wilkerson and Andrew Fortman, who were instrumental in making this weekend a reality. Also Eric Lueshen for playing "tour guide," Christopher Barrett for arranging social engagements and Bill Gubrud for helping promote the weekend.
- The incredible stories we heard on Saturday night at the Center on Halsted, including Spenser Clark's intimate thoughts about race, Luke McAvoy's class not believing he's gay, and PJ Painter's coming out to his "rancher" dad. All of the speakers were incredibly thoughtful and moving. Tears were the perfect start to Saturday night. You can watch some of the stories on Facebook here and here.
- Fifth Harmony over and over and over and over....
- Hearing that 96% of Marina Mangiaracina's readers have no issue with her being transgender. While that means that 4% still aren't cool with it, given that she writes about the Oklahoma City Thunder, we'll take that ratio.
- Puerto Rico is not on a map of the United States.
- When given the opportunity, Chicago O'Hare will delay your flight.
- All 5-feet-something of Ashley Dai pretty much taking over every social event.
- Huge thanks to Nike for sponsoring our group in the parade and providing the awesome #BeTrue shirts, and to our parent company SB Nation for its support and ideas for the event.
- The massive number of churches that came together to march in unity in the parade. It was a reminder that the Christian traditionalists are losing their war against homosexuality even among their member institutions.
- Steve Buckley's incomparable ability to tell stories. That he kept calling this weekend "awesome" was incredibly rewarding.
- A speedo can look good on an offensive lineman.
- Nathan Fort, the gay basketball player from Arkansas, twerking along the entire parade route in his rainbow compression shorts. Yes, that really happened.
- Athletes passing around the rainbow flag so they can take their turn waving it for the crowd lined up along the parade route. It was also so cool to watch them interact with people behind the barricades, hugging them and high-fiving the entire 90 minutes we marched.
- No. More. Fireball.
If these don't tell tIhe story of this weekend, the social-media posts from attendees should...
Thanks to everyone who came to Chicago to spend time with us and build community. As we said, it's now your job to help others get to the place where they can and want to join us next year, location and date to be announced in the coming months. Stay tuned!
Photos by Brent Mullins