When D’Auriel Epiphany started the queer skate group Rolling with the Homos (RWTH) not long after moving to Philly in September, 2020, it was initially to find like-minded people with whom to share a hobby. Epiphany made a Facebook group to sound the call, thinking maybe 10 people would respond, but it turned out that 80 people expressed interest.
“When I did start it, I [thought], I would love to just meet new people,” Epiphany said. “Especially during the pandemic, when everyone’s super isolated, it kind of helped everyone find affirmations in themselves.”
Before too long, the people who frequented the group started to open up to each other and talk about their identities.
“A lot of people were like, ‘I’m starting to understand my [gender],’” Epiphany said. “Myself included, I really started to understand my gender a lot more just from having conversations and hanging out with people and just being in community.”
The group welcomes all wheels, including skates, rollerblades, skateboards, “and pretty much anything that rolls.” Epiphany said that the group centers Black, Brown, queer and trans people with disabilities, and it is open to kids and their families.
Although the group is on hiatus at the moment because its four admins are balancing work and life, Epiphany said, that does not mean RWTH is kaput. In fact, the group is looking to expand their admins.
The other three people who run RWTH are Emily Joynton, who is in charge of all things education and runs skate classes; Amari Callaway, who plans social events; and Eliyah Hakim Moully, who serves as the group’s financial admin.
In addition to events like a drag-themed skate, a Spring Fling and a queer prom, Epiphany and the RWTH team run closed identity skates, including ones for BIPOC and trans folks.
“The BIPOC skates – I love them – they’re one of my favorite times with the group,” Epiphany said. “We’ve had all kinds of things outside of our general skates.”
In a skate culture that is predominantly white, cis, heterosexual and male, RWTH is pushing against that narrative. In terms of race, gender, sexual orientation, disability status, “there’s largely a lack of people that fit one or more of those categories, especially in skateboarding,” Epiphany said. “Any person who gets into skating in those circles usually can do it with a lot of effort or find themselves in much smaller groups.”
Epiphany first bought rollerblades and started skating in Texas in 2016, but didn’t find many friends to skate with. Most of the people who were interested in skating were cis, straight white men.
“I think at that time, I didn’t really understand why a lot of my discomfort in those spaces didn’t make sense, but also not understanding that I was trans or queer,” Epiphany said.
Georgia-based skateboarder Ross Landenberger had a similar experience growing up as a gay kid in Tennessee, he told NBC News. He found the skateboard culture in his town to be “hyper-masculine,” and didn’t see how queerness had a place in it at the time. However, it turns out that visibility matters. After professional skateboarder Brian Anderson came out as gay in 2016, Landenberger subsequently noticed queer skate groups emerging. As such, he began documenting the lives of LGBTQ skateboarders in different cities and small towns for his photography project “Queer Skateboarders.”
Leo Baker is another out trans skateboarder who has challenged norms in the largely cishet industry. Baker publicly changed his name to Leo in 2020 and resigned from the U.S. women’s Olympic team. Before coming out, Baker felt like he had to try to be someone he was not in public spaces.
“Since making that decision, I have never been happier in my life,” Baker said in Time Magazine in 2021. “Coming out has changed my life in so many ways. I can’t even put words to the feeling of going to a skate park and just being one person.”
In Philly, RWTH has really grown into a community where no topic seems to be off limits.
“So many people, I’ve watched their progress in understanding their gender, understanding their sexuality, or just learning more about themselves or about each other,” Epiphany said. “I feel like Philly is a very poly-friendly and poly-open community, so a lot of people have had conversations about that. We all just open up and unpack some things that we didn’t realize about mental health and trauma and all kinds of other things. I feel like that really instilled in me my understanding and love for community and community building.”
Doing mutual aid support for historically excluded people, including QTBIPOC, was one of the group’s earlier initiatives. It manifested in the form of providing skate gear and helping with transportation for people of color, trans people, people with disabilities and anyone in need. The admin team realized that a lot of the people who came to the skate sessions were white, cis people who had access to resources.
“We had a much smaller population that were like me, that understood navigating the world as a person of color, or with disabilities, or just wanting to engage in the hobby but not really feeling safe,” Epiphany said.
As for anyone who may be skeptical about going to a RWTH event or session, Epiphany stressed the idea that participants are there to have a good time.
“If you fall, that’s fine,” Epiphany said. “Learn to be comfortable in falling. The first fall is the biggest — you tense up and you’re anticipating it but once it’s done, you have to get accustomed to it. After that, just dust it off. We’re not here to judge each other. We’re here to learn from each other and share space.”
For more information, visit Rolling With The Homos on Instagram.