If you’re looking for a gay person in the Twin Cities over Memorial Day weekend, check the local sports facilities.
Nearly 2,000 members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning and intersex community, from 18 to 60-something, will compete in three sporting events over the holiday weekend.
The athletes, more than half of whom are from out of town, will hit home runs at fields in Burnsville and Eagan for the annual North Star Classic and the elite North American Gay Amateur Athletic Association Cup (NAGAAA). They’ll also serve up aces in the Minneapolis Convention Center for the North American Gay Volleyball Association (NAGVA) national championships.
About 900 softball players from 75 teams will compete at Burnsville’s Lac Lavon fields and Eagan’s Lexington-Diffley and Northview Park fields. And while tournament director Todd Trebesch estimates that 85 percent of the athletes are men, women and straight athletes, male and female, will also compete.
“Because of circumstances in the ’70s and ’80s, when being a homosexual wasn’t as accepted, there has been a significant change in the comfort of having straight allies involved,” he said. “When I joined the league in 2004, my initial team had two or three allies. Some teams have more now, some are mixed, some are strictly LGBTQI.”
Spectators are welcome at the games, which begin Friday morning and run through Sunday, and admission is free.
That’s also true inside the Convention Center, where 18 volleyball courts will feature about 900 athletes on 100 teams from the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.
“We’ve had people who played professionally, people who played on their country’s national team, who’ve played Division I collegiate volleyball. I think a couple of women have even played in the Olympics,” said Jason Fallon, the Ohio-based president of NAGVA, who would be playing with his team, Loud and Proud, if he hadn’t dislocated his shoulder.
“It’s amazing competition, watching those matches,” he said.
Eric D. Nelson, of Minneapolis, is on the NAGVA board and has played in 18 tournaments. And while the games can be fiercely competitive, he said, they’re about more than just winning.
“It’s really all about the people,” said Nelson, a software test engineer for Seagate Technology. “There are people I haven’t seen since the tournament last year.”
Even as the world has become more hospitable for LGBTQI people, Nelson said, organizations such as NAGVA — and the Twin Cities Goodtime Softball League, which hosts the softball tourneys — remain important.
“I know for me, when you’re coming out, you’re nervous, you’re maybe out but not super-public about it yet and you go to volleyball, where you find this big, welcoming atmosphere,” he said. “When I came out, there weren’t that many opportunities to do that: It was go to the bar or here’s this other thing you could do.
“What’s so different now is that there are a lot of straight allies involved, which was rare when I started. They’re playing because it’s a blast and it’s really good competition.”
Good for business
It’s good business, too, with hundreds of people visiting Twin Cities area hotels, restaurants and bars.
Not all of the NAGVA team names are printable, but monikers such as Victorious Secret and Midwest Hot Mess Express suggest athletes who also enjoy a cocktail or three.
“We’ll be busy on Friday, but we’ll be blown out of the water when the tournament’s over. It’s one of our busiest Sundays of the year,” said Ed Hopkins, who owns the Eagle Bolt Bar in downtown Minneapolis, site of the softball after-party Sunday at 10 p.m. He said locals tend not to mind that the bar is overrun by out-of-town athletes looking to get their drink on.
“People do not just come to play volleyball,” Nelson said. “It’s also about the social aspect and about partying with your friends,” adding that it can be fun to be in a situation where straight “allies” find themselves in the minority, instead of the other way around.
Organizers emphasize that the sports events are about inclusion.
“On my team, I have a straight male setter and a straight female libero,” or back-row player, Fallon said. “They love playing in these tournaments because it’s such a genuinely nice sport to play.
“It makes me proud to be part of the organization when such a diverse array of individuals play: lesbian, gay, transgender, questioning and straight allies alike.”