Finding My Queer Community in Chicago

11/4/2017

When I moved to Chicago roughly a year ago, I predictably felt a wide range of emotions; I was anxious about finally settling down in a big city and starting a new job, a bit sad to be relocating so far away from my friends and family at home, and, perhaps most importantly, excited to be moving to a city with a thriving and active LGBTQ+ community.

Until moving here, it was a community I only participated in from afar or through the internet; however, I knew that once I landed in Chicago I would have the opportunity to actually become active in ways that had previously been unavailable to me.

I had seen pictures of Pride celebrations, heard tales of the LGBTQ+ friendly neighborhood Boystown, and knew of countless advocacy organizations available to join…and I was one hundred percent sure that I wanted to be a part of it all.

However, in reality, I had no idea how to join any of these groups or organizations. Up until that point, I really never had a large group of LGBTQ+ friends and, upon arriving in Chicago, I was unsure of where to begin to start making them.

I spent my first few months up here getting adjusted to city life and slowly began venturing out when my budget and schedule allowed; however, I still wasn’t feeling as connected or involved as I wanted. Luckily for me, my friend Mark from college had the perfect solution: sign up for Stonewall Sports here in Chicago.

For those of you who are wondering what Stonewall Sports is (as I was when my friend suggested I join the team) here is a brief summation from Patrick Crosson, Founder & Chairman, Stonewall Sports – Chicago:

Stonewall Sports is an organization that caters to LGBTQ+ individuals who want to be in a high FUN sports organization that has a philanthropic heart. It’s less about “athletes” and more about individuals looking for an outlet to have fun and to give back to the community, which sets us apart more than just being LGBTQ+ focused. I think it’s very important that we have the philanthropic aspect to our league because it shows that we can come together and do more as a community for those in need of extra support. And we can do it in a way that IS fun and allows individuals to create friendships that can last a lifetime.

In a nutshell, the league was exactly what I was looking for when I first moved to Chicago: a place to have fun, meet new people and to give back to my community. However, I was still hesitant to join; despite how fun it sounded and looked, I was a little nervous that the league seemed to be filled with predominantly gay men, despite it being open to all genders, religions and sexual orientations.

I hesitated because, as a bi man, I don’t have the same inherent level of comfort that a gay man does when I enter a predominantly gay space. I’ve been called a coward, a fake, a liar and much worse for identifying as bi, by both gay and straight individuals, and to this day there are those who consider my sexual orientation to be invalid.

In the past, the most aggressive attacks have come from gay men who think that I am somehow undermining their sexuality by embracing my own and, thanks to those interactions, I tend to be much more cautious when entering gay spaces. So, naturally I was a little hesitant to enter into a league where I knew most of the participants were gay.

However, thanks to numerous assurances and persistent messages from my friend, I decided to sign up for the summer dodgeball league as a free agent. I was soon drafted to a team and before I knew it, the season was upon us. I was pretty nervous as I walked into the gym that first game; like I said, I really didn’t know anyone and had my guard up, it was kind of like walking into the first day of middle school.

I soon realized the worrying was all for naught; everyone was friendly and excited to welcome me to their team and to the Stonewall Sports League. I don’t even remember if we won our games that first week; I just remember having a blast. Not only did I start to develop friendships on my own team, but with people on other teams as well.

I was also pleasantly surprised that when I did eventually reveal that I am bi, no one who heard even batted an eye. In fact, more often than not, people were curious to hear from me about what it is like to be bi and how I was enjoying the league. I’m happy to say that I did not encounter a single issue concerning my bisexuality while participating.

Overall, joining Stonewall Sports was one of the best parts of my summer and one of the highlights of my time here since moving to Chicago (and not just because my dodgeball team wound up winning the championship, go Balladooks!).

The Balladooks

It was such a great experience because I was able to meet so many awesome, fun people who are unapologetically themselves. As someone who tends to be a little more on the reserved, quiet side, it’s really incredible to be surrounded by such a diverse group of people in such a welcoming environment. Not only does it make for a fun dodgeball game, but also helps me to feel more comfortable in my own skin.

I enjoyed the Summer Dodgeball league so much that when the opportunity arose to play on a kickball team in the fall, I jumped on it. Needless to say, I am enjoying kickball just as much as I enjoyed dodgeball. With Stonewall’s numerous sports and seasons (dodgeball in the winter and summer, kickball in the fall and spring, and bocce ball in the summer) I think it’s safe to say I’ve found a way to stay active and involved in Chicago’s LGBTQ+ community year round, all while having a blast.

For more information on Stonewall Sports and to see if there are teams in your city, head here!

 

Blaize Stewart

Blaize Stewart is a recent graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he received a BA in broadcast journalism and a MA in journalism. He currently lives in Chicago, IL and works as an influencer relations associate for a full-service influencer marketing agency called Faam and as an adjunct instructor at Robert Morris University. Additionally, he runs the LGBTQ+ blog Out Loud, a space for members to share their experiences and thoughts on current events and more.