It might just seem like a day at the races, as men and women from across the Mid-Atlantic -- as well as some from as far as Chicago -- take to the Anacostia River this Saturday, May 30, for the 16th annual Stonewall Regatta, presented by DC Strokes Rowing Club, the only independent GLBT rowing team in America. But even in the world of rowing, you cannot escape politics.
"As we rounded the bend, the announcer edited our statement," remembers Jason Beagle, recalling a recent experience in Boston as the DC Strokes competed in the Head of the Charles Regatta. For this event, attracting about 250,000 spectators, various clubs submitted their information to be read by an announcer. But the language identifying the DC Strokes as a GLBT club didn't make the cut.
"He paused, then just said, 'a rowing team from D.C.,'" says Beagle, current president of the DC Strokes. "That's why DC Strokes exists. We're still faced with discrimination, people who are uncomfortable with gay people. To be present, actively competing in a sport, being out…. It says so much about what we're doing and what we hope to achieve."
In that light, it's obvious that the Stonewall Regatta has a statement of equality to make. Beagle says he's hoping that plenty of locals will come to the shores of the Anacostia to make that statement with the club.
"Being a spectator is also being part of the event, being a part of what we do," says Beagle. "It's exciting to get people involved."
Beagle adds that in terms of community involvement, it's worth noting that while the DC Strokes count more than 300 members, only 130 of those row, while the rest support the club in various capacities. With rowing specifically, the club is also helping the community, whether that's teaching adaptive rowing to wounded veterans or teaming with Whitman-Walker Clinic to offer a women's weekend rowing clinic.
But for a taste of the excitement of the Stonewall Regatta, talk to Chip Lewis, a newcomer to the Strokes. While he timed races at last year's meet, Lewis will be joining a crew on the Anacostia this year.
''I'm excited about it," says Lewis. "I'm a little nervous, but it should be a lot of fun. … We have a good reputation. We're a pretty good team. We're looking forward to showing what we can do.''
For more information about the DC Strokes Rowing Club or to volunteer or join, visit www.dcstrokes.org. The 16th Stonewall Regatta runs from approximately 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, May 30. Spectators may view the regatta from Anacostia Park.