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By Dan Woog
So how gay is frisbee?
It’s a sport – which is actually called “Ultimate” and played with a “disc,” because “Frisbee” is a registered trademark – that has traditionally attracted “outsiders.” Some are good athletes who have been turned off by the rigid rules and militaristic manner of mainstream sports. Others are people who always considered themselves non-athletes, but finally realized the joy that can be found running, throwing and catching.
And plenty are gay. Ultimate welcomes everyone (except referees – there are none). It’s a big gay sport.
And it has spawned Big Gay Frisbee teams.
There’s one in Los Angeles. Another in San Francisco. Those names – originally tongue-in-cheek – stuck. And they’ve stuck all the way to Las Vegas, where this month ultimate was played as part of the Sin City Shootout.
More on that later. First, the ultimate background.
Around 2007, Seth Harrington was searching for a team sport. Rejecting what he calls the “macho paternalism” of sports like football, basketball and baseball, he had not been particularly athletic while growing up. But in his 20s he wanted to do something sports-like. Randomly, he picked up a disc.
He discovered a “level playing field.” Ultimate was athletic and fun, without being judgmental or exclusionary. Harrington roped in gay and lesbian friends (and his own lesbian sister). They became as enraptured as he was.
The men and women who initially gathered with Harrington to play in Los Angeles parks were, like him, “non-athletes.” But younger players soon joined, many with backgrounds in traditional team sports. They did not feel as excluded from sports as Harrington had been, but they also enjoyed the easy-going camaraderie of the ultimate players.
“It’s a generational thing,” Harrington says, referring to a new group of LGBT people who have grown up playing sports. He’s only 28, but he recognizes the difference.
Ultimate is “super easy to pick up,” Harrington notes in explaining its appeal. “All you need is a disc. In two minutes, you understand the rules.”
Just as quickly, newcomers catch the spirit. “It’s an easy camaraderie. Everyone respects everyone else,” he says. “There’s no ref, so everyone sorts out and resolves issues together.”
It’s also “a way to have fun without a drink in your hand. It’s a way to come out without the bar scene.”
Those qualities make “Big Gay Frisbee” attractive to the LGBT community, Harrington thinks. And they extend to straight players who join. Harrington has been surprised several times when, after playing for months, someone casually announces he has a girlfriend. “These are straight guys who are very at ease with the LGBT community. They don’t feel this big necessity to identify as straight right from the start.”
(About that Big Gay Frisbee name. It started as a joke, Harrington says. “It was just part of the fun. It sounds non-threatening, welcoming and ironic.” Eventually it stuck. Now it’s official.)
In 2011 – four years after the first dozen or so players gathered – there were enough for a legit tournament. Flyers, a Facebook page and website drew a crowd of 60. Today there’s an email list of 250. The Facebook page has 280 members.
That’s enough for a real Big Gay Frisbee league. Each season lasts several weeks, with six or so teams. “It’s almost like a real sport,” Harrington laughs.
He adds proudly that although a lot of players are first “dragged in by friends,” or arrive looking for a boyfriend, after just a couple of games they realize the ultimate attraction: Frisbee is fun.
“They stop boyfriend-shopping,” Harrington says. Meanwhile – with the pressure off – relationships do form and flourish.
Which leads to the Sin City Shootout. Held annually in Las Vegas (duh) over Martin Luther King Day weekend, it draws over 6,750 participants. They compete in basketball, bowling, bridge, darts and 12 other sports. (They also party. But that stays in Vegas.)
This year, the Shootout included what Harrington calls “the one and only national LGBT ultimate tournament.” Eight teams participated, from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Cincinnati.
The San Francisco group is an outgrowth of the original L.A. teams and league. First organized this past October, it’s already grown to 60 members. Befitting the Bay Area, many ultimate players there are startup-types. In Southern California, Big Gay Frisbee players are a mix of ages (early 20s to late 40s) and backgrounds: professionals from West Hollywood; plenty of doctors, lawyers and entertainment people; younger folks from across the city, a few from South L.A. There are a number of Asians and Latinos plus, Harrington laughs, “a lot of Jews. I did a lot of recruiting from my gay synagogue.”
For more information, visit http://www.bgfultimate.com.