Vancouver’s umbrella gay sporting group is rebranding itself in a bid to remain relevant to the larger community.
Dozens of supporters attended a June 14 launch party for Queer Active and listened as the new non-profit’s president, Tracey Williams, introduced board members and unveiled the organization’s new mandate to empower queer individuals through sport and fitness, with a specific focus on youth between the ages of 16 and 25.
Queer Active evolved from its predecessor Team Vancouver, after the board questioned its current relevance to the community.
Team Vancouver was originally founded in 1989 to bring the 1990 Gay Games to Vancouver and has since coordinated BC’s entries into subsequent Gay Games and Outgames.
In recent years, Team Vancouver’s board said, the organization had become largely stagnant, only fielding inquiries for information every three years when a Games was being held.
“It became very clear to the board members that we were only known as the T-shirt and uniform group and that we were missing out on a really great vehicle for reaching our community,” Williams says.
“We were all sort of feeling that Team Vancouver wasn’t doing anything positive for the community. We didn’t have a face in the community; people really didn’t know who we were,” she says.
The board brought in a consultant who helped draft a new mission statement and vision, and 18 months later, Queer Active was born.
“We wanted to become more relevant to the community, and we looked into different ways that we could make that happen,” Williams says. “We looked at all the groups that were represented and we figured that youth were being skipped over in a lot of cases.”
The refocused group plans to act as a resource to help connect queer youth with sports teams and hopes to partner with local high schools, universities and GAB, Qmunity’s youth program. Williams hopes to support youths who want to create new queer-friendly teams in other sports, if they don’t already exist, and plans to hold an annual “sports day” event, starting in spring 2013, where local queer sports teams and leagues will be able to connect with youths interested in getting involved. Queer Active also intends to create a bursary program for those with financial need, to help them join sports teams, either by paying fees or for equipment.
“We are making a pledge to queer youth to make sport more accessible and to give them more opportunities to be involved,” Williams says.
For Williams, sports were always a part of her life; she played softball and competed in mountain biking as a young adult. But, it was being part of a lesbian dragon boat team that helped her as she came to terms with her sexuality in 2006.
“I was a bit old to be hitting up at the clubs,” says Williams wryly. “The dragon boat was where I made my baby steps into the gay community when I was first coming out.”
“Queer youth are largely unsupported as far as sports and fitness goes,” Williams adds. She acknowledges that many queer people may shy away because of bad experiences with sports in high school but says that queer teams and leagues are a great way to keep active in a friendly and supportive environment.
“It gives kids a healthy alternative to meeting new friends and peers rather than having to hit up the clubs and party scene all the time,” she notes. “It’s just a different avenue to meet new people.”