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GLRF featured in St. Catharines Standard

09 August 2005 | glrfcentral
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Rowers happily pose for a booth photo in exchange for some free GLRF rainbow socks. Photo credit: GLRF photo
St. Catharines

The local media took notice when GLRF hosted its first booth on Henley Island at the 2005 Royal Canadian Henley. The regatta is commonly acknowledged to be the largest rowing regatta in North America. The sports editor for the St. Catharines Standard stopped in for a chat with GLRF Executive Director, Brian Todd.

 

Warm reception for gay rowing group

 

Bernie Puchalski, Standard Staff

Local Sports - Saturday, August 06, 2005 @ 01:00

 

There’s a new presence this week in the vendors area of Henley Island.

 

Tucked among the boat and clothing companies, photo dealers, rowing publications and traditional rowing organizations at the 123rd Royal Canadian Henley Regatta is a tent promoting the Los Angeles-based Gay and Lesbian Rowing Federation.

 

Manning the booth in its first-ever visit to Henley is recreational rower and Los Angeles-based financial analyst Brian Todd, wearing casual clothes and rainbow-striped socks.

 

“This regatta is so wonderful,” he said. “I’m frustrated that I’m stuck in this booth all week.”

 

Todd, who founded the organization in 2001 with fellow American Elizabeth Morgan and Australian Geoff Lyne and is the executive director, has been pleasantly surprised with his reception on the island.

 

He has been greeted by “incredible, genuine warmth with no hostility whatsoever.”

 

But not everyone is overflowing with warmth.

Lawyer Jack Lovett, the regatta’s grandstand announcer, feels the group doesn’t belong on the island.

 

“I don’t think it’s a welcome addition. I don’t think it’s a good example for our clean-cut athletes rowing at Henley.”

 

The web-based, membership-driven organization has 380 members in 17 countries. About 12 per cent of the group’s members come from Canada.

 

And that number is on the rise.

 

“Our Canadian membership is rising very quickly and we’re pleased with that,” Todd said.

 

At this week’s Henley, two 16-year-old girls signed up and Todd expects more by week’s end. The GLRF’s youngest member is a 14-year-old girl.

 

“A couple of lesbian girls pranced in delighted to see us and they couldn’t wait to sign up,” Todd said.

 

The initial impetus for creating the organization was for better representation of rowing at the Gay Games. Rowing was added to the Gay Games in 1998, but wasn’t a sport in 2002.

 

The group quickly changed its focus to promote rowing in the gay and lesbian community for people who have never rowed before, and, through visibility and awareness, provide an easy integration of gay and lesbian rowers into the rowing community. It also provides resources to gay and lesbian rowers.

 

Gay rowers who come out lose friends and feel like they’re starting all over when they enter a boathouse, Todd said.

 

“We’re like a doorman. We hold the door open to the gay and lesbian community.”

 

But that door isn’t always swung open in greeting.

 

“At the national and elite level in other countries, it is homophobic. In Canada, I don’t yet have a good feel for it.

 

“At the club level, it is more conservative than homophobic. There’s enough of an air of conservatism that, unless the club is proactive, the gay and lesbian rower feels intimidated.”

 

The common perception of the group is that it wants to hold separate regattas for gay and lesbian rowers, but Todd says that’s not the case.

 

“Our vision is a seamless integration of gay and lesbian rowers within the broader rowing community. It means you can be totally out and totally complete without fear of retribution or judgment.”

 

Funding for the group comes from sponsorships, web advertising, apparel sales and paid memberships.

 

“We have limited resources but we want to be at national and international regattas,” Todd said.

 

This year, the group will have a presence at the San Diego Crew Classic, the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta and the Head of the Charles.

 

“Just the fact that you have visibility changes the outlook and increases the acceptance. It’s no longer buried under the carpet,” Todd said.

 

When the article appeared in the paper two days later, it caused some controversy due to the not-so-friendly comments about GLRF from one of the regatta officials. The reaction from the local populace and rowers at the regatta was swift and almost entirely supportive. Many came by to say they felt the remarks were out of order and unrepresentative of Canadians and added that they were glad GLRF was at the event. Kevin Swayze, son of the late Canadian rowing legend Craig Swayze, made a point of coming by the GLRF booth to express his personal support and to buy a GLRF rOwer t-shirt! Several letters to the editor have also been extremely supportive of the GLRF presence.

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