BY LUKE REYNOLDS
PHOTO BY PETER SPURRIER
The Gay and Lesbian Rowing Federation (GLRF) has been in the rowing community for decades providing resources, unique rowing gear, and a community of like-minded rowers with a place to commiserate with one another. Rowing News interviewed with GLRF co-founders Brian Todd and Elizabeth Morgan, to hear a little bit more about the organization, its history, and what it hopes to achieve.
*This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: So tell me a little bit about the history of the GLRF.
Todd – Well we got the ball first started rolling in 1998 at the Amsterdam Games on a Wednesday afternoon midweek when we found out there would be no rowing at the Sydney Gay Games. So we muttered among ourselves, ‘we should do something about this.’ That started a kind of email list and then Liz contacted me in March of 2000. She had gotten an email from someone at the gay games — I think it was the president — who said, ‘if you want rowing in Sydney, you need to join the Federation of Gay Games.’ And that began the collaboration and the eventual creation of the GLRF.
Morgan – Part of I think what we’ve struggled with, as well, was also trying to figure out what this organization was going to be. You know, because in rowing at that time there was not sort of a big contingent of dedicated gay and lesbian rowing events. And so a lot of people who were rowing who were also gay were just rowing with or working with other clubs whether or not they were out. So, we were trying to figure out how an organization like ours fits in. Really our main objective at that time was simply to create an organization as required by the Federation of Gay Games to know to be able to represent the rowing community.
Q: Tell me a little bit more about the community that exists within the Federation. Why is it important for there to be a community like that tailored toward people who identify as gay or identify as someone on the LGBTQ spectrum?
Todd – I think to be able to connect with rowers from around the world is still important for gay and lesbian rowers. There is still to this day I see it in a sense of community that rowers enjoy being able to connect with like-minded folk.
Q: Would the two of you say that rowing is an inclusive sport? Is rowing a good sport for a gay person? What makes rowing unique versus other sports?
Todd – Well, you hit one of my hot buttons because this is one of the things that I talk about. And it’s always amazing when I met at a GLRF booth at regatta and people come in and say ‘but why [do you have this organization]?’ and we say, well, rowing is a noncontact sport and we feel the number of gay and lesbian people in rowing is much higher than the standard 10 percent. It’s more like probably 20 percent. One of the reasons is because rowing is a noncontact sport and everybody can participate. It’s not like the traditional where you’re you’re at the playground and being picked out for whose team you’re on. Everybody has to perform on their own, in their own seats. And it’s much easier, I feel, for a gay or lesbian person to fit in than to be essentially being dominated by somebody in a more contact sport.
Morgan – Rowing has a mystique that, you know? There’s always new people willing to try it. One thing that I personally have found interesting, having been involved with [DC] Strokes since the early 90s, I teach the learn to row classes and going back 20 years the novice classes were often people who had never actually participated in any kind of sport previously. Maybe they run or maybe they have done some things very individually but generally, people didn’t have experience with sports. So rowing was sort of new on multiple levels for them. Now I find it much more common that athletes have done some sort of sport in the past often with some rowing experience.
Q: Tell me a little bit more about that dynamic that’s changed. I mean, obviously, the whole landscape for gay people has changed outside of the sport of rowing. But in rowing as well, how have things changed in the past 20 or 25 years?
Morgan – There is a lot, a lot more openness and people feel more comfortable now. I think one of the things that early on that we did see and one thing that is still true today is to continue being an advocate because there is still a stigma. I mean we still hear stories of people not being willing to be out on their team or what have you because people, coaches, in particular, wouldn’t be supportive. They might be worried they won’t get boated or what have you. Certainly, as you made your way through the elite levels of the sport, I don’t think we’ve totally cast that off but I do think things have really shifted. People feel more comfortable coming out at an earlier age and I don’t think there is quite the stereotype that existed back in the day.
Q: What’s coming down the line for GLRF? Anything on the calendar for the fall or spring 2021?
Todd – Our calendar still shows the Sin City Erg which is still up in the air due to the virus. Are we going to be able to compete? We don’t know but our plan is to move forward with it. We are also planning on having a booth at the Head of the Charles and the Head of the Hooch. I haven’t talked to Head of the Charles yet to see if there have been any changes but I think everyone is just doing a ‘wait and see.’
The Gay and Lesbian Federation is currently hosting “a global initiative to promote inclusion and acceptance in the broader rowing community” called the Rower’s Pledge. To sign the pledge and learn more about the Gay and Lesbian Rowing Federation, visit glrf.info.