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1 year ago
Meet the Badass Women of the Gay Softball World Series

Confession: I’ve never really been into team sports. But I’m VERY into gay pride celebrations, tacos, and badass female athletes.

So when Nissan, a major sponsor of the annual Gay Softball World Series, invited me to Austin, Texas, to write about the 40th anniversary of the games, I was stoked.

As you might imagine, the Gay Softball World Series has seen a whole lot of change since it began in 1976. What started as a small, casual competition between the handful of gay softball teams that existed in New York and San Francisco has evolved into a competitive, six-day event with more than 185 teams from 43 cities across the United States and Canada. This week, more than 5,000 players, coaches, and fans came to Austin for the games.

During the 80s and 90s, the players were sometimes greeted by anti-gay protestors or even banned from playing in certain cities or on certain fields. Now, though, the Gay Softball World Series enjoys major corporate sponsorship from companies like Nissan and Prudential. And cities like Austin compete to host the games by submitting bids years in advance. (Start training on your own time with Women's Health's Ignite workout from Next Fitness Star Nikki Metzger.)

The teams at the Gay Softball World Series are comprised of both men and women, and gay, straight, bisexual, and transgender players are all welcome. Most of the women I met say they live and breathe softball; they play for the gay league, women’s teams, “straight” recreational teams, and even local church teams just to get in as much practice and play as possible. 

Here are some of their stories:

gay softball world series
1/9 Larry Barthel
Raelene Carlson, 26

Hometown: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Team: Twin Cities Perfect Storm
Identifies as: Lesbian

“I’ve been playing slow-pitch softball since I was in second grade. I think the stereotype about all lesbians being good at softball is really funny. I know it’s not true, but I also like to think that I’m good at softball, so I’ll go with it. A lot of my social life also revolves around the league—we have a team Christmas party every year and go to bars or watch football games together. It’s such an amazing community to be a part of.”

RELATED: Meet the Two Transgender Women Making History by Running for Congress

gay softball world series
2/9 Larry Barthel
Lindsey Albro, 27

Hometown: New Orleans, Louisiana
Team: Sloppy Seconds
Identifies as: Straight

“I’ve always been an athlete. I play softball every day of the week on a number of different teams. You could call my other leagues ‘straight,’ but that wouldn’t really be accurate because I’ve helped bring so many amazing players from my gay league onto those teams. Doing that has opened a lot of people’s minds and eyes to the gay community in New Orleans. For some of the younger, closed-minded players who’d never met a gay person, or just didn’t realize they had, it was kind of awkward at first, but now they’re so comfortable they’re asking to play in the gay league with us, too. It’s pretty awesome. People assume I’m a lesbian all the time because I play softball, I’m tough, and I’m loud, but that’s fine—many of my friends are lesbians, so why would I be offended by that? It’s 2016 and we’re all adults.”

gay softball world series
3/9 Larry Barthel
Paula “PC” Cline, 52

Hometown: Denver, Colorado
Team: Denver Dinosaurs
Identifies as: Lesbian

“I’ve been playing softball since I was 6. I actually founded Denver’s gay league with two friends 21 years ago, and I haven’t missed a World Series since. When we first started our league, we joked that for the first few years I taught half the division how to throw a softball. You have a group of people who have never been included and were the last ones picked on the playground, but then once someone finally says, ‘It’s OK, it doesn’t matter what your skill level is, we’re going to figure this out,’ they evolve into these incredibly fierce competitors. I have the utmost respect for these players. We’re like a big family here, and we all have so much love for this game.”

RELATED: Meet Chris Mosier, the First Openly Transgender Athlete on a U.S. National Team

gay softball world series
4/9 Larry Barthel
Charlotte “Sharky” Miller, 37

Hometown: Nashville, Tennesee
Team: Avengers
Identifies as: Lesbian

“The non-gay leagues in Nashville call me almost weekly about going in to play, but I don’t like playing with them quite as much because there’s a lot of ego. The gay league is more community-oriented. I’ve had a lot of umpires in local and national tournaments tell me that they would prefer to umpire for gay leagues because we might say ‘Hey, I don’t think that was a good call,’ but we don’t get crazy about it and call names or curse anyone out. We understand that everybody’s there to have fun and we’re all still a family. We cheer for other teams because we’re all in it together—except for when we’re playing against each other, of course. It’s super competitive, but it’s also very supportive, and I love that.”

gay softball world series
5/9 Larry Barthel
Erica Rettig, 33

Hometown: Sacramento
Team: San Francisco Rock Stars
Identifies as: Lesbian

“I’ve played softball my whole life. I’ve played in ‘straight’ leagues before—I still play in one now—but it’s different. You show up, you play your game, and you go home. But with the gay softball league, there’s this real sense of community and camaraderie. Gay men and women, in general, are often told that we don’t have the same athletic abilities as straight guys. There are a lot of gay men I’ve coached who have literally never thrown a softball before or never held a bat before when they first join the league. Watching them gain skills and realize, ‘Oh yeah, I DO have these physical abilities, I was just never allowed to express them,’ is an incredibly rewarding process.”

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gay softball world series
6/9 Larry Barthel
Elizabeth "Liz" Grande, 30

Hometown: Providence, Rhode Island
Team: Rhode Island Cruisers
Identifies as: Straight

“I actually got to know my husband through gay softball. A little over seven years ago, one of his fraternity brothers asked him to play softball and didn’t exactly clarify that it was a gay league, but he started to play anyway and just fell in love with it. We were friends and he asked me to join the league with him even though I’d never played softball before. My brother is gay, so I really appreciated the fact that he had so many gay friends on the team. We’ve made so many core, lifelong friendships through the league—the commissioner of our softball league actually married us. We just had a baby this year, and now playing softball is my primary form of exercise with my schedule as a new mom working full-time. Even though my husband and I both identify as straight, this community has been so welcoming to us, and it’s such a huge, important part of our lives.”

gay softball world series
7/9 Larry Barthel
Courtney Williams, 33

Hometown: Austin, Texas
Team: Austin Pride
Identifies as: Lesbian

“I started playing gay softball in 2006 and this is my fourth world series. Softball is an amazing way to make new friends. When I first moved to Austin from a small town, I didn’t know anyone, and now I run into so many people who know me as ‘Courtney the pitcher,’ and I’ve more than doubled my number of Facebook friends. I promote gay softball everywhere I go, and especially at work. I wouldn’t say it's super gay-friendly at my job, but I’m gay and proud and I love gay softball so much that I don’t care—I’m going to talk about it anyway.”

RELATED: 7 Reasons to Want a Woman as Your President

gay softball world series
8/9 Larry Barthel
Danielle Wasko, 43

Hometown: Madison, Wisconsin
Team: D-List
Identifies as: Bisexual

“Before I came out as transgender, I played softball on straight leagues, but I felt like I had to act masculine and couldn’t really be myself. After my transition, I was nervous about what the players in the gay league would think about me because there were no other women or trans players on my team. But everyone made me feel really welcome and urged me to sign up. I’m so happy I did. I always wanted to play softball as a kid, but growing up in the 80s, boys played baseball and girls played softball, so I was forced to play baseball instead. I’ve been told I throw like a girl all my life, but I can still throw as hard and as far as anyone else.”

gay softball world series
9/9 Larry Barthel
Debra Jean Lowry, 54

Hometown: Dallas, Texas
Team: Dallas Woody’s Explosion, B Division (Coach)
Identifies as: Lesbian

“When I was 15 years old, I was playing softball in the street and someone came up to me and said, ‘You’re really good, you need to be playing on a real team.’ I’ve been playing and coaching as much as possible ever since. I used to only play with women. I didn’t think I’d like this Gay Open Division because back in the 80s, I had a stereotype about gay men in my mind, just like everyone else did. I thought, ‘Well, I’m rough and tough and you’re...not.’ But then I watched them play in Dallas in 1988 and I was like ‘Oh my God, these guys are actually awesome!’ Now these guys really are like my family. I’ve been to every World Series since 1993. We used to get people protesting us. Now every city we play in opens up to welcome us. It’s been incredible to watch that change happen.”

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