Yes, it does get better, and one better place in the sports world is where the Gay Polo League makes a deep hoof-print on narrow homophobic sensibilities. On February 20, in Los Angeles, the League hosted its first annual west-coast Gay Polo Tournament. The event came off at the El Dorado Polo Club, a gilt-edge venue located in Indio. Four teams faced off over the little ball; players were from the U.S., Canada and France. First place went to Team Miss Lilly's Trading Company. Second place: Team Compete Media.
For those who don't follow equestrian sport in all its varieties, being LGBT and out has made significant progress in recent years, with notable visibilities on the U.S. dressage team at the Olympics. In polo several years ago, GPL organized on a shoestring in California, and quickly drew interest and outside support, leading to their hosting GPL's first-ever national tournament in Wellington, FL, last year.
Florida stands as a national bastion of political ultra-conservatism, with Wellington a long-staunch capital of the horse fancy. Yet even in Wellington, the GPL pulled off a highly visible and successful event, with participation of notable non-gay players and displays of political support from people who mattered. Not surprisingly, in April 2011, GPL is returning to Wellington for the second time.
Speed and Strategy
Polo is one of the oldest horse-sports on Earth. Then and now, you need two teams of 4 players and a grassy field 300 yards long. At each end there are goalposts 8 yards apart.
It's a spectacular game of speed, strategy...and contact on fast-galloping horses. Players swing their long-handled mallets at the little zooming ball, sometimes right under their horse's necks. Often all eight players and horses are jostling together in wild melees. The aim is to score the most goals by hitting the ball through the goalposts. A modified version of the game is arena polo, in a smaller area with 3 players per team.
I've been following the GPL's adventures since 2008, when Chip McKenney, GPL founder and president, invited me to their first-ever tournament at the California Polo Club outside L.A. It was a humble but high-spirited affair, with a barbecue afterwards, and trophies, and happy speeches about where it was all going to go.
My first reports on GPL's activities appeared in Outsports.com. Later I've covered them for Bilerico as well.
Chip, a veteran player who works in the L.A. media, is delighted with the latest event. To the press, he said:
Our goal is to host high-end tournaments in four corners of the US and abroad. We were a bit concerned about the weather and thrilled the rain held. The management of the El Dorado Polo Club were wonderful to work with. They made every aspect of this tournament great. WrightWay Polo provided the pros and ponies -- and did an excellent job for us.
Sponsors for the February 20 event included The Yard, an Equine Rehabilitation Center, Compete Sports Media and Miss Lilly's Trading Company.
Polo Re-Invents Itself
Across the U.S., GPL's growing membership is young and often new to horse sport. Often they don't even own horses. They get galloping with loaner ponies and sound professional instruction, thanks to support from a growing list of non-gay polo establishments who aim to make the sport more popular and open to all. GPL continues to attract the participation of top international male and female players on its teams. Often the greater experience of one international player serves to anchor a team with three younger, less seasoned players.
In this, GPL benefits from a broader trend. With the global economy in growing crisis, this share-the-resources approach is vital to a sport that traditionally operated off a smaller elite base of monied interests. In other words, today's polo is no longer about Prince Harry and corporate CEOs. It's going grassroots and pluralistic in order to survive.
GPL is a member of the U.S. Polo Association (USPA). The only requirement for membership is that you love a sport that is something like hockey on horseback.
Yes, in these dark times, the LGBT community is fighting to hold the turf it has already won, as are other progressive fronts of human-rights. But we need to remember and recognize those regions of turf where our victories are holding firm, even getting better.
And one of those "better" patches of grass is the one where people of all possible sexual orientations are getting together on fast horses and having some fun whacking a ball around.
Media Contact for GPL: Mason Phelps
Phelps Media Group, Inc. International
Photo courtesy of Phelps Media Group
For more information, and some great action pics of gay polo, visit the GPL website
Facebook page for GPL, with more action stuff and comments
Another Outsports write-up of mine