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U.S. Sailing hosts panel on LGBTQ diversity, equity and inclusion

Four LGBT sailing enthusiasts share their personal and professional perspectives and provide recommendations to sailing organizations on being more inclusive.

Stephanie Helms and other sailors compete on the Atlantic Ocean.
Chris Howell, J/24 Class Association

As part of its ongoing series on diversity, equity and inclusion, U.S. Sailing is tacking toward its community of sailing enthusiasts who identify as LGBTQ, which of late has found itself in irons.

For non-sailors who don’t speak the lingo, that means the organization is now addressing the fact there are lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer people who sail who have not always been included, accepted, and respected as everyone should be.

A prior panel discussion tackled racial diversity in sailing. The intent of these online town halls, say organizers, is “to call out the challenges and roadblocks that exist in sailing and come up with suggestions for how people and programs can be more inclusive.” It’s not meant to be a “one and done,” process, they say, but rather “a starting point for valuable, ongoing dialogue.”

According to U.S. Sailing’s director of education, Stu Gilfillen, The Starboard Portal panel Thursday night offered “practical for conducting outreach in your local communities and best practices on fostering these relationships.”

The panel featured a moderator and four speakers who offered recommendations to sailing organizations on how to be more inclusive, and speak to the experience of being LGBTQ in sailing.

Stephanie Helms of Maine is a sailor, sailmaker and a transgender woman who was a guest on the Outsports podcast The Trans Porter Room. She’s also president of the Northeast Sailing Association, and a regional race officer.

In accepting their invitation to join the panel, Helms told organizers: “Given that the sport has been a lifeline for me, I’d be honored to take part, especially with the recent hysteria regarding trans people in sport.” She was referring to the worldwide debate over transgender women playing rugby.

“Pretty neat that one sport at least believes in inclusion,” Helms told Outsports.

The moderator of the panel was Kimball Livingston, the author, columnist and past commodore of the St. Francis Yacht Club. The three other panelists were Francesca Clapcich, the two-time Olympian from Italy; Liam Faudree, the junior sailing director at the Rochester, N.Y. Yacht Club; and John DeRuff of San Francisco, a 2-year captain at George Washington University’s sailing team.

DeRuff came out one year ago in Outsports: “All of the fear, anxiety, doubt and pessimistic thoughts were replaced with the most genuine feeling of belonging I’ve ever felt.”

DeRuff, whose Twitter bio says he is “probably lost at sea, craving coffee,” updated us on life since coming out in September 2019. Click here to read.

Click this link to watch the panel discussion.