Philadelphia is rife with culture in the summer — music festivals, art fairs, Pride celebrations, and sports events abound. This year, sports in Philly will be just a little bit more queer when Stonewall Sports brings its ninth-annual National Tournament and Summit to the city in July. Stonewall Sports is an LGBTQ+ nonprofit sports organization with local chapters that offer organized recreational sports leagues, tournaments, wellness, education and community.
“The mission of Stonewall Sports is to create spaces for LGBTQ+ individuals and allies [in the community,] particularly that puts focus on wellness,” said Gabe Marenco-Garcia, tournament chair and participant in the Philadelphia chapter of Stonewall Sports.
The national tournament will consist of two days of gameplay from July 15-16, including kickball, dodgeball, tennis, volleyball, bowling, billiards and bocce ball. Sports championships and an awards ceremony will take place on Sunday, the 16th. One of the campaign slogans that Stonewall Sports has been using during this year’s national tournament is “Stonewall for all.”
“A lot of folks think, ‘I have to be athletic, I have to be competitive in order to do Stonewall,’” Marenco-Garcia said. “‘Stonewall for all’ [means that] you may have never played kickball, you may have never played dodgeball, and that’s OK. There is a space for you within our organization because through the process that each chapter has, we try to match you with a team or you self-select to be in a team that fits your needs. We try to really create an organization that builds community, centers wellness, and allows you to show up as yourself in every way possible.”
“So I think this is also an important space for folks to feel some sense of belonging and maybe some comfort and healing to some degree,” they added.
The leadership summit component of this year’s event is set for Friday, July 14, and will be divided into a morning session for Stonewall admin and an afternoon session open to all who are registered for the tournament. In addition to discussing issues facing the LGBTQ+ community, participants will learn about how Stonewall Sports helps to foster inclusive spaces and how to improve diversity, equity and inclusion in their individual chapters. The theme for the afternoon portion of the summit this year is, “Co-creating vibrant and inclusive communities.”
“We highlighted ‘co-creating’ because with 26 chapters of Stonewall, our communities vary in so many different ways,” Marenco-Garcia said. “We are in places as small as Gainesville, Florida, and we’re in cities as large as Chicago, Atlanta and San Francisco. We know there’s huge variation in what a community looks like and what it means. The summit is an opportunity for us to have some critical dialogue around what does diversity, equity and inclusion work look like in our respective committees and as an organization, and how does that work with the communities that we come from.”
The Philly Stonewall chapter has history within the organization in that it was one of the first few Stonewall subsidiaries to be established. Sheila Alexander-Reid — executive director of PHL Diversity, a division of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau — noted the city’s LGBTQ+ community.
“Philadelphia really embraces its LGBTQIA+ community, not just during Pride month, but by having a designated Gayborhood — that shows you the level to which their commitment goes,” Alexander-Reid said. “That’s a deep level. Having lived in several cities, I know that that’s rare and I think that in and of itself shows you the level to which Philadelphia really embraces its different parts of its culture, including the LGBTQIA+ community.”
Welcoming America, a nonprofit organization “that leads a movement of inclusive communities becoming more prosperous by ensuring everyone belongs,” designated Philadelphia as a welcoming city, Alexander-Reid said. Her job entails bringing meetings and conventions to Philly that represent the diversity of the city.
“We are the largest U.S. city to have that designation and I think it really summarizes how we feel about the different parts of our community that make Philly such a great sort of melting pot,” she added.
It’s important to push public messaging that Philly is a safe and welcoming city for LGBTQ+ events, Alexander-Reid said, because the LGBTQ+ community is an important demographic of the city.
“As a member of that community –– I’m an out and proud lesbian –– you want your home to be your sanctuary, you want to be proud of your home, you want others to come and see your home and feel welcome,” Alexander-Reid added. “We’ve taken it and expanded it to a whole nother level because we don’t think that Philadelphia should be pigeonholed. We want people to understand the expanse that it is, and the LGBTQI+ community is a big part of that expanse.”
Amid all of the political attacks aimed at restricting the rights and visibility of LGBTQ+ individuals, especially queer and trans youth, Marenco-Garcia hopes that Stonewall Sports serves as a safe haven.
“If you’re overwhelmed with what’s happening in your community, Stonewall sports is a place of refuge,” they said. “You can say, for this 40-minute match, ‘I feel like I am around people that care about me, my well-being and my safety.’ What we’re really trying to push is [that Stonewall Sports is] a place that they can come to [be] free of judgment. Hopefully, [it’s] an opportunity for a break, mentally and physically, from the world today. I think that’s what we’re looking for as humans.”