This weekend local rowing group DC Strokes will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Stonewall Regatta, which runs Sunday from 8:30am-5:00pm at the Anacostia Community Boathouse.
The event will bring over 400 rowers from across the US to compete in high-intensity races on the Anacostia River. Admission is free, with music included and food trucks expected in abundance.
DC Strokes is the oldest LGBT club in the world and 1 of 4 independent, self-sustaining LGBT and ally rowing teams internationally. It was founded in 1991 by 8 members of DC Front Runners (a gay running group) looking for a cross training activity.
I spoke with team member and coach Elisabeth Morgan Fondriest – a founding member of the Gay and Lesbian Rowing Federation (GLRF) and an active part of the Stonewall Regatta since its opening year – about the event and why it’s a great thing for DC.
JCM: Why should people come out to watch a rowing event?
EMF: Rowing places unique demands on the people who make up a crew team. The best crews make rowing look easy and effortless, but it’s actually incredibly hard to do. These are sprint races competed head to head. So the races are fast and have very close finishes, with boats changing position right up until they cross the line. Plus, you’re on the water so the scenery is nice.
JCM: What can people expect from the event once they get there?
EMF: The Anacostia Community Boathouse will be bustling with the 30 or so teams who will be participating. The race intervals are short, so boats will be coming and going constantly with races coming down the river every few minutes. The vast majority of the competitors will be adults, many representing local teams but some coming from further away like Chicago, Princeton, and Pittsburgh. People will compete in boats of varying sizes from one person to eight.
JCM: What messages are you hoping to send through the regatta?
EMF: We are a serious rowing club like any other, and we have a reputation for putting on a great regatta. We have a really nice custom-designed medal and wine for our winners. It’s our 20th annual event – a milestone I did not at all imagine when we put on the first one in 1994 – and it will probably be one of our biggest so far.
I think most people get now that the name of the event is in honor of the Stonewall Riots, and not Stonewall Jackson – a common mistake in the early days.
JCM: As an LGBT team, do you experience discrimination different from other rowing teams?
EMF: I think ideally DC Strokes would like to be thought of as simply a rowing club as opposed to ‘the gay rowing club.’ Granted, the club actually has a mission statement and it encompasses more than rowing – promoting the idea that GLBT people are athletes and competitors just like anyone else, and providing a safe and supportive environment for GLBT people and allies to participate in a sport. But the bottom line is the club is open to all regardless of sexuality, and our focus is primarily on the rowing: training, helping people improve their skills as rowers, successful competition, and trying to have fun.
I think on the whole the club is accepted. We’re not so novel anymore. That’s not to say though that we don’t still find people who think the gay orientation is something to harass us about or for whom it is an uncomfortable topic. In a recent season, one of our men’s crews overheard a cox’n in another boat during a race tell his crew, “Do not let yourselves get beat by the fag boat!” (they did anyway). And we have yet to encounter an announcer at the Head of the Charles in Boston who is willing to read out loud the line in the club’s bio about DC Strokes being a GLBT rowing team.
We also have always gotten great support from US Rowing and we have referees who have been involved with our regatta for many years. I don’t think the event would have lasted if rowers and teams didn’t keep coming back year after year to compete and help the regatta to grow.