This awesome sports league welcomes all genders, sexual orientations, and skill levels.
True
DICK'S Sporting Goods

Growing up, dodgeball was one of Darius Soler’s biggest fears.

A game where the kids who bullied him for being “big and gay and effeminate” could all target him with plummeting balls? Hard pass.

One day, when Soler was dodging gym class, the teacher found him curled up in a bathroom stall, feet propped on the door to conceal his presence. The coach then forced him to go to gym and “everyone threw balls at me — it was all of them, versus me,” remembers Soler.


Not surprisingly, as an adult, Soler thought his dodgeball days were far behind him — until his coworker invited him to watch his gay dodgeball league play.

A rush of anxiety overcame him as he watched the game — everyone was being hit by balls — but in the end, all the players united on the court, friendly, laughing, and apparently, all on the same side.

Seeing the camaraderie between players completely changed Soler’s vision of what a dodgeball game could be about. He joined the very next season.

“Now I love it,” he says. “I turned my fear into my strength and have grown a lot. Dodgeball has taught me a lot about camaraderie and I’m very grateful that I found my tribe.”  

Across America, LGBTQ sports leagues are creating communities.

“I didn’t have my gay friends, and now I have a bunch,” says Soler. Today, he plays on an all-black, gay dodgeball team. “I’ve never been on an all-black gay team of anything,” Soler says of the “family” he’s found.

This past Pride, Soler came out as trans and gender nonconforming, and says that the safe space built through the dodgeball league has offered immense support in realizing his identity.

“It’s been integral to who I’ve become. I don’t have a fear of showing who I am,” Soler says. “Everyone celebrates who they are.”

Soler’s far from the only person who has found a new community thanks to LGBTQ sports clubs. However, unlike him, Henry was actively looking.

When Henry (who’s name has been changed to maintain his privacy at work) first moved to New York City after college, he was struggling to build a gay group of friends. Some of his college friends had also moved to the city, and he was slowly building up a professional network. But when it came to building a tightknit circle of people who shared the same sexual orientation, he didn’t know where to start.

“I wasn’t looking for a relationship or a hookup. I just wanted friends,” he says.

An introduction to LGBTQ dodgeball through a colleague led Henry to sign up for kickball and bowling teams as well. And before long, he had a close-knit group of friends that he now regularly enjoys brunch and exploring New York with.

“People always say it’s so hard to make friends, specifically in the gay community,” he says. “But gay sports provided me a group of gay best friends — I don’t know where else you’d get that. It’s an opportunity to meet hundreds of people you already have something in common with — you have nothing to lose.”

In Los Angeles, Andrew Miller had a similar social struggle.

He had moved to L.A. over a decade before he found his LGBTQ sports league, and though he had a small cluster of gay friends, “They weren't the closest of friends, but they were my gay friends. The only activities we could do together were going out in West Hollywood,” he says.

Five years ago, a coworker asked Miller if he wanted to join Varsity Gay League, and Miller was intrigued by the “opportunity to meet other gays [who weren’t] in a bar scene.” He was eager to socialize with like-minded people and build a new support network.

Almost instantly, he felt like he belonged to a “chosen family.”

Varsity Gay League members playing volleyball. Photo via Varsity Gay League.

“This has nothing to do with the sport. No one signs up to win a game of dodgeball, kickball, or volleyball. They sign up to be part of a community,” Miller says.

“You’d be shocked at how not good people are at the games, but we all have fun.”

When he started playing, Miller could barely catch the ball, but now, he’s taken on the role of director of operations in the organization.  

For athletes who have been playing sports since childhood, LGBTQ sports organizations also offer the space to continue a lifelong hobby with their community.

In Boston, 32-year-old Stacey Furtado, who has played basketball since middle school, runs the Boston Women’s Gay Basketball League, a collective of 14 teams made up of 125 women, who range from former professional players, to women who have barely dribbled a basketball in their lives. Teams are drafted to equally distribute the athletic talent (or lack thereof). The most important element, as Furtado puts it, is making sure that every player feels welcome and that they’re building community.

Stacey Furtado about to sink a basket in the Boston Women's Gay Basketball League. Photo via Stacey Furtado.

“Last year my team was seventh in the rankings, but number one in our social hearts,” says Furtado. In fact, several players who met in the league have gotten married and “umpteenth relationships” have been born from games and socials.

“The pressure is off when you meet people through a sport,” Furtado says, “We’re all looking for friendships probably even more than love. The most rewarding thing is when you see that happen. People really find community.”

For those who are not athletically inclined, Furtado recommends going to an LGBTQ sports game to cheer on the players. “It’s a positive, active, fun environment,” she says of spectatorship.

Building a tight-knit circle of friends as an adult is hard, especially if you’re a marginalized person looking for similar people to bond and empathize with.

A Varsity Gay League kickball team. Photo via Varsity Gay League.

Though all these individuals came to their LGBTQ sports teams with various athletic background and ambitions, they all joined athletic leagues in search of the same thing: community.

Despite life’s ever-changing struggles — be it feeling like an outsider on the playing field or lacking a strong, supportive community as an adult — LGBTQ sports connect people in unexpected, stigma-defying ways.

This story was produced as part of a campaign called "17 Days" with DICK'S Sporting Goods. These stories aim to shine a light on real occurrences of sports bringing people together.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

Keep Reading Show less