The Queer Sports League Creating Community for Trans Athletes in Orlando
As anti-trans laws go into effect in Florida, this group is a crucial lifeline.
Florida isn’t exactly synonymous with inclusivity. But as the state’s Governor Ron DeSantis continues to place restrictions on transgender adults seeking health care and ban gender-affirming care for minors, tensions are higher than ever, and members of the queer community are feeling more and more unwelcome.
Amidst the devastating news, however, queer people are coming together to find community and support. Orlando United Together Sports League (OUT), an LGBTQ+ group in Orlando, has cultivated a space where members of the queer community can gather to play recreational sports like volleyball, kickball, and dodgeball.
The group started in 2018, after the tragic shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, in an effort to establish an in-person, safe space for queer people that didn’t revolve around dating apps or nightlife. Now, more than ever, the league has been a haven for local transgender athletes.
Loba Arvelo, a trans woman and member of OUT Sports League’s kickball and volleyball teams, discovered the group at a local Pride festival. “I hadn’t played sports since high school, and with all the talk about trans women not being able to play sports, I assumed that [it would be] impossible for me,” Arvelo says.
Joining the league reignited Arvelo’s competitive spirit and also gave her the opportunity to immerse herself in her local queer community, a privilege she didn't have as a child growing up in Orlando. Even now, Arvelo rarely gets the chance to interact with fellow trans women—it wasn’t until Gwen Lemmerman joined the team that she cultivated a strong connection with another woman facing the same challenges she does.
“It made me feel less alone; the two of us have bonded because of this. Since I’m further along in my transition, we kind of have a big sister-little sister bond,” says Arvelo. “Though, I will say, she has been teaching me quite a lot as well on how to accept myself.”
Lemmerman grew up in Melbourne, Florida and moved to Orlando in November 2019. As was the case for many people, pandemic-induced lockdowns and working remotely limited Lemmerman’s ability to make friends in her new place of residence. After a recommendation from her therapist, she joined OUT Sports League, which served as her entry point into the social scene in Orlando.
“I have anxiety just being out in public as it is. And so I definitely feel the difference between when I'm with my community versus not,” says Lemmerman, who started her transition almost a year ago. “Having a place where I can be myself, be around like-minded people, and not have to feel concerned for my safety has definitely just made life a lot easier.”
Organizations like OUT Sports League are even more crucial now as the transgender community in Florida is under attack. Lemmerman was recently notified by her healthcare provider that they are going to stop providing her gender-affirming care until she signs a consent form (which is currently nonexistent) that has to be approved by the state. Until the form is signed, trans patients in Florida will not receive the care they need.
As the community awaits approval to continue treatment plans, Arvelo has heard rumblings of fellow trans people relying on leftover medication and searching for potentially dangerous alternatives. During this uncertain time, Lemmerman and Arvelo are thankful they can turn to each other and their teammates for solidarity.
“It's a scary time, but being part of the community definitely helps,” Lemmerman says. “Having others around me who can understand what I'm going through or who are experiencing the same things at least provides some level of comfort.”
Despite the Republican Party’s efforts to harm the transgender community in Florida, the bond formed between Lemmerman, Arvelo, and their teammates is impenetrable. After hearing heart-wrenching news or having a challenging day, they’re grateful to get together for a round of kickball every week and decompress at one of their sponsor bars, District Dive, afterward.
“I feel like I’ve found a family. I’ve been surrounded by people that accept me, invite me to parties and clubs, have given me shoulders to cry on, ears to hear my rants and vents, and given me a place where I feel like it’s OK to be trans,” Arvelo says. “If it weren’t for them, I’m not sure I’d be here.”