Diversity, equity, and inclusion still have a long way to go in the world of sports. Sports leagues and organizations are slowly starting to scratch the surface as to what accepting diversity looks like. Beyond acceptance, there is still much noticeable action that needs be done to create safe and welcoming spaces for those in the LGBTQIA+ community so that everyone can feel represented and appreciated. There are many clubs and organizations all over the world that have been founded on the premise of inclusion and creating safe spaces while participating in activities their members love. This second article of a four part series will highlight clubs and organizations that are running, riding, and surfing the way for a better future. A future that accepts love, skin colour, and identity for what it simply should be.
Queer Run Club
In May of 2021, MK’s first run with other queer members Sarah and Janessa happened at Tommy Thompson park. It was the first time MK had ever run with anyone else. MK asked Sarah and Janessa “should I start a queer run club?”. With Janessa and Sarah’s support shortly after the run MK created an Instagram account called Queer Run Club, ‘QRC’ and was shocked that the account handle and name had not already been taken. The account sat quiet for a few months, until August of 2021 when MK received a DM from a stranger asking how to join the club. MK set a time and place to meet someone they didn't know to go for the first official club run. The morning came to run, and the curious runner did not show up. MK went home and saw that another message had arrived in their inbox. The member apologized for not being able to make it but said they would attend the next one. So MK tried again to arrange another run, and it turned out to be quite successful! Approximately four people showed up that MK didn’t know prior to the run, as well as four other friends MK already knew. After the run, the runners all went to Ethica Coffe Roasters to socialize.
Since then, the club has only continued to grow with over 1000 members to date and approximately 20–40 runners attending each run on average. MK had to stop counting at one point because the attendance kept increasing steadily each week. Every Saturday morning at 9:15am, not far from Bloorview Village, the QRC gathers to go on social runs. This club embraces all that it means to be a part of the LGBTQIA+ community by running the streets of Toronto at a chill pace. It's a welcoming culture that doesn't take life or running too seriously. The club to this day as MK describes remains to be very casual. MK is also very proud that many people have found their community through QRC, which has also been very fulfilling for them. For example, a queer walking club and a queer photography club have been founded due to inspiration those founders gained from the QRC. You can learn more about the club and how to join here. Even if you’re not a runner, the club also welcomes anyone to join their post-run coffee club at Ethica Coffee Roasters.
Queer East Run Crew
If you don’t live on the west end, love running, and want to run with a rad community, we have good news! There is another running club in town known as the Queer East Run Crew (QERC). The club usually meets at Evergreen Brickworks or the Distillery District, and runs through locations like Tommy Thompson Park, the Lower Don Valley trail, Riverdale and more. Founder Carl started QERC in May 2021. During the pandemic, like many, he was living alone, feeling low, and decided to turn towards community. He started his own running group in Toronto’s East End and asked two friends to join him on a trial run through Riverdale. He took some pictures along the way, posted them on social media and invited anyone to join the next run the following week. Approximately 18 people showed up for the first official run—most of whom he had never met before. Participants saw the post on Instagram and were also feeling isolated and looking for a group to socialize and run with. Every week the crew slowly continued to grow. Today the crew consistently has anywhere from 15–30 people show up.
The three primary pillars of the Run Crew are:
- Exploring Toronto’s East End
- Meeting other queer (or allied) people outside of bars and off of apps.
Founder Carl believes that “the last pillar is extremely important because most queer people only meet each other in bars, clubs, or on dating/hookup apps. While all of these spaces have a time and place, they also can be a bit superficial. They also aren’t the best spaces to foster natural friendships—they tend to be more for dating and hookups”. Carl is also extremely proud of how many friendships have grown from the Run Crew. The group is open to anyone and everyone, and is absolutely hetero-friendly!
Each run is in a different location in the east end. Details are posted a few days in advance on Instagram. No need to sign up—simply show up at the meeting location at the listed time. Every run begins with introductions where the crew reviews the route, introduces themselves, say their preferred pronouns and decide if we’re doing the long or the short route. After introductions, they do a quick group stretch. Then they run! After the run, they always have what they call their “post-run hang”. Essentially, they just cool down and socialize together for 20-30 minutes. This is Carl’s favourite and very important part, and that’s when a lot of those connections are fostered. Carl mentions “I’m extremely proud of the Run Crew. It came from such a sincere place and so many people just immediately latched onto it. I’m so excited to just see how it organically grows and evolves”. To join the east end crew and to find more about them, check out their Instagram.
Gay Surf Brazil
Outside of Canada there are also many other organizations creating change in their communities. The yearly surf camp was created by Marta Della Chiesa, resident of the island of Florianópolis and owner of the travel agency Brazil Ecojourneys. The surf Gay Surf Brazil camps are usually based at Praia do Rosa, a small surf town located in the district of Imbituba in the south of Brazil. The camp is designed for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender surfers. “Ever wanted to surf but was too afraid of not fitting in?” Gay Surf Brazil aims to fight homophobia in surfing by connecting community through surf trips. They promote diversity and inclusion in a safe space for surfers in and out of the lineup. Gay Surf Brazil is open to all skill levels, from absolute beginners to more advanced surfers. All members of the community and allies are welcome!
Queer Surf Club
To create inclusive surfing to save our oceans… I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a stronger mission statement than this one. The Queer Surf Club, founded in the UK, aims to shake up the traditional exclusiveness of surf culture. Frazer, the club’s founder, booked a surf trip approximately five years ago with his boyfriend in a location that he learned soon after, was illegal to be homosexual in. During the trip, they pretended to be friends with the fear of being outed. At that moment, he knew that he never wanted anyone to feel the way he did during that trip. Frazer recognized the diversity that was lacking in the surfing world, as well as additional barriers to accessing the sport and the ocean. Frazer knew that if he could get more people in the ocean, they would feel more inclined to protect it. Therefore, diversity, inclusivity, and equity all go hand in hand—and that’s how the Queer Surf Club was born. Now a global community and platform, The Queer Surf Club aims to continue growing inclusivity in the ocean by connecting members through slack channels and other Queer friendly businesses all around the world.
An online platform used to connect LGBTQIA+ surfers near and far, Gaysurfers.net allows members to find other surfers in their area who also identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community. “GaySurfers.net offers a supportive community environment that focuses on building a positive image of gay surfers in the surfing world while encouraging a healthy, ocean-centered lifestyle for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered individuals within our own communities”. Much like Facebook, the website requires a login and the creation of a profile so you can chat with other members, be a part of specific groups that are organized by location, read informative articles, write blogs, and more. The best part is that the platform is free and open to everyone who identifies as LGBTQIA+!
You may be wondering… who is Benny and why does he have a club? Benny means someone who is not a local. Benny’s club is a community-based surfing collective on Rockaway Beach in New York City. The club aims to welcome those who are queer, of colour, etc. to share waves and diversity together. No matter what your ability, age, gender, or colour is, all Bennies are welcomed to share the magic of surfing together! Many of their events include hangouts, morning surf sessions, beach clean ups, coffee, music, and more.
Brown Girl Outdoor World
If you don’t know this organization yet, then you definitely need to continue reading. With over 28,000 followers on Instagram, Brown Girl Outdoor World is an organization that is changing the narrative through nature. Founder Demiesha Dennis created BGOW solely to share the representation and community that she wanted to see in outdoor spaces. The organization takes members of the BIPoC community on trips and adventures such as fly fishing, camping, star gazing, surfing, and more. BGOW creates memorable experiences that members will carry with them for the rest of their lives, while inspiring others to step outside. BGOW’s mission statement reads “Through community engagement and a wide range of outdoor activities, Brown Girl Outdoor World (BGOW) is committed to changing the narratives assigned to the Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPoC) community and our place in outdoor adventure and recreation. As an organization, we are laser focused on moving the conversation away from what we do not do but work instead to provide tangible solutions to diversifying outdoor recreation. We are putting ourselves in position to create a new narrative that would bridge the engagement gap by calling to action community organizations, business corporations and government agencies, to begin the business of reminding BIPoC communities that they too belong in the great outdoors.” You can learn more about BGOW here.
Ride for Black Health
In May of 2020 George Floyd, a black man, was suffocated to death by a white police officer. His death shook the entire world and was enough to fuel a pivot moment in the Black Lives Matter movement. Simon Macleod and his friends were not okay with people sharing black squares on their social media accounts. “Fake activism” or performative/clicktivism activism is when one participates in activist movements to increase one’s social capital instead of doing good for the cause at hand sometimes without even truly knowing it. The George Floyd case was the perfect example of this, as people were only taking to social media to post a black square instead of attending protests and sharing educational resources. Simon knew this was not the way to create change in his community. He decided to create a campaign called Ride for Black Health in order to raise funds for TAIBU that directly supports providing health care for black-identifying people. TAIBU is a Kiswahili word for “Be in Good Health“. Located in the Greater Toronto Area, this health organization offers access to primary health care, health promotion and disease prevention programs in a culturally affirming environment. In their first year, Simon and Emanuel rode 150kms from Toronto to Niagara Falls to raise funds and awareness for TAIBU. Simon, Emanuel, Rory, Xavier and Elbethel are the inspiring members that have been working hard for the past three years to run this campaign. This year, their goal is to raise $15,000, and the bike ride will be taking place on August 20th. The team is hoping to ride approximately 200 kms as part of their fundraising. For more information you can visit their Instagram page.
We are certain there are many more communities that exist in the GTA and beyond. These are just a few of the organizations we have come to know since starting Surf the Greats. We were thrilled to highlight the ones closest to our hearts because they demonstrate that love, compassion, and community make us stronger together. Through our mutual love of movement and pride, these organizations exemplify how we can create a better world right in our own backyards, and as individuals, we all have the power to create change.
Words by Maddi Leblanc
Maddi Leblanc is a Niagara born, Toronto-based stand up paddling athlete for Team Canada, SUP instructor, and lake surfer. Maddi is also the new General Manager at Surf the Greats. She has been paddle boarding for nine years, competing in SUP for six years, and surfing the Great Lakes for six years. She recently just completed her Masters at Brock University in Recreation & Leisure Studies. Find her on Instagram.