LGBTQ skateboarding crews create a safe space

Crews of queer skateboarders have been forming across the country in an effort to create a comfortable space for LGBTQ skaters.

Posted: Jul 1, 2018 12:21 PM
Updated: Jul 1, 2018 12:44 PM

Hannah Chumley felt a hand reach out and yank on her clothes -- her bra strap, specifically.

It belonged to another skater who was falling from his board, and in doing so, trying to pull Chumley down onto the concrete with him.

The 19-year-old managed to escape his grip, but felt shaken by the encounter. It was one in a series of aggressions she says she feels on a regular basis at the skate park, where she's been practicing tricks since she was seven years old.

"Almost every time I go to the skate park, people are so shocked to see a girl that skates," she told CNN.

And when male skaters find out she identifies as queer-- she turns down their advances with the simple "I have a girlfriend" -- their responses tend to become mean, sometimes even violent.

Chumley didn't want their attitudes to stop her from doing what she loves most, but at the end of the day, she was beginning to feel unsafe at her local skate park.

The college student realized that if she wanted to find an inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ skaters in her city, she needed to make it happen herself.

So, in January, Chumley put up a flyer for Atlanta's first Queer Skate Day and hoped her idea would resonate with other people. Before long, dozens of queer skaters of all levels started gathering on a weekly basis.

Their community has grown quickly in the past six months. The Atlanta group is only one example of how LBGTQ+ skaters are rising up across the United States to break down barriers in skateboarding and build safe havens that celebrate them for who they are.

They create their own safe spaces

"Historically, skateboarding has always been dominated by straight white men," said Chumley. "It's so behind the times, and it needs to change."

She refers to high-profile skaters like Jay Adams, who was convicted of felony assault in 1982 in the fatal beating of a gay man, and Jason Jessee, who apologized in May after old interviews in which he made homophobic slurs resurfaced online.

Sophia Mackey, who has been attending Queer Skate since March, says it's made a big difference for her to have a place dedicated to the intersection of queerness and skating.

Mackey believes that both "queer culture and skate culture offer a space for free-spirited people with alternative interests."

Events like Queer Skate Day, she says, are essential in making sure LGBTQ skaters "feel safe and have a good experience that's ours."

Beyond skating itself, the meetup is also a way for LGBTQ people in Atlanta to bond and rally around one another.

"Before we had queer skate, I would go to the skate park and feel so frozen and intimidated," said Camila Izaguirre, Chumley's girlfriend and co-founder of the group. "But being there with other queer skaters makes me feel so encouraged and motivated."

Their mutual support makes it easier to learn to skate

LP White learned to skateboard as a preteen but lost interest over the years, partially because it was difficult to connect with other skaters. The 24-year-old from Portland, who prefers the pronouns they/them, decided to pick their board back up a little over a year ago. This time, they promised, they weren't going to put it down again.

To be able to keep their word, White needed to find other like-minded people to skate with.

They searched repeatedly on Facebook until coming across a group that hosts Queer Skate Night once a month at Commonwealth Skateboarding, a shop with an indoor park in Portland.

"I think for me, the importance of it is that I wouldn't have kept skateboarding if it wasn't for that," White told CNN. "And I think it's the same for so many people, so many friends from (the group) who are also queer and want to get better at skating."

What started as three or four people showing up to skate together last year has grown into 10 and sometimes upward of 20 at every meetup.

White says the skill level ranges from experienced skaters who are sponsored by companies to beginners who attended once, fell in love with the environment and kept coming back.

Being around other LGBTQ people takes the competitive edge off learning, says White. Everyone is there to lift each other up and cheer on each other's accomplishments, whether it's unlocking a complicated new trick or being able to ride 20 feet without falling off.

"A big part of it for me and others I've talked to is that I think when there's queer meetups or you're skating with other queer people, it doesn't feel like there's anything to prove," White told CNN. "It feels like you're just having fun and with your friends."

And by establishing a place where people will feel accepted and embraced for who they are, the PDX Queer Skate Crew is opening the doors to a sport that saw its first professional skater come out as gay less than two years ago.

"I just think what's really important is this community-building aspect of it," White said. "I think it's important to grant access to activities to people who feel like they may not have it otherwise."

They mix skating with LGBTQ art and culture

In California, Miriam Klein Stahl, 48, and Tara Jepsen, 45, focus on the visual side of the queer and skate communities.

Stahl lives in Berkeley and Jepsen lives in Los Angeles, but the two were brought together by their desire to heighten visibility for LGBTQ imagery within skateboarding.

They partnered up last year to design skateboard decks -- the visuals featured on the boards themselves -- and apparel that highlights queer icons like poet Justin Chin and activist Audre Lorde.

Their company, Pave the Way, is a "sister company" with Unity, a Bay-Area skate and art collective that holds LQBTQ meetups in cities around the world.

The two groups sometimes host events together, at which Stahl and Jepsen like to distribute their designs for free.

"For us, we're not doing this to make money," Stahl told CNN. "We're doing because we love skateboarding and we're proud of our queer culture and want to promote both at the same time."

For Pave the Way, artwork with positive depictions of LGBTQ people is an essential way of increasing acceptance and fostering safe spaces for a variety of gender and sexual identities in skateboarding.

And the company's mission has been widely embraced by everyone, says Stahl. When skaters who may not identify as LGBTQ use Pave the Way's boards, it helps to reinforce an open and welcoming environment for everyone.

The two women also take pride in showing that anyone can skate at any age; Jepsen started when she was 36.

As they ride into their 40s, they say both their friendship and their skating has blossomed thanks to Pave the Way.

But knowing that skateboarding can be an isolated sport, and knowing it hasn't always been friendly to LGBTQ people in the past, Stahl and Jepsen hope to show newcomers that it's cool to take pride in being both queer and a skater.

"A lot of it is for the younger generations to feel like they don't have to go at it alone, that there's going to be community around them," Jepsen said.

And it seems to be working.

Stahl teaches visual arts at a high school in Berkeley. She says many of her students love the gear and "want to ride our boards."

The Smithsonian American History Museum is also acquiring a Pave the Way deck for its permanent collection.

They seek common ground with straight skaters

Mo Hayden of Grand Rapids, Michigan, picked up her first board in August 2017.

"I saw Unity's videos and I was like, 'that looks so cool," she said.

The 23-year-old student got hooked immediately and began making art related to skating during the time she wasn't practicing.

As she entered the scene, however, Hayden also wanted other women and LGBTQ people to feel comfortable showing up to parks and skating with everyone there.

For her senior Visual Studies show at Grand Valley State University, she held two skate days to bring skaters in the community together.

Two people came to skate, which she says she expected from hosting it an art gallery, but slowly, she is encouraging other skaters in Grand Rapids to let their guard down and be kind to one another.

"I'm really open about being a beginner and being femme-presenting and queer," she said. "That's like an admission of vulnerability, and maybe we can all meet there."

Hayden and her friends hold meetups where they all help each other with tricks. She says straight skaters often welcome them and join in on the meetups.

The recent graduate stresses the importance of finding common ground instead of forming an us-versus-them narrative around mainstream skating and queer skating.

"It's not a separate culture," she said. "We all have to share this culture."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 501652

Reported Deaths: 10024
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34353540
DeSoto32162408
Hinds31977631
Jackson24508383
Rankin22015390
Lee15596235
Madison14597280
Jones13867243
Forrest13461252
Lauderdale11998317
Lowndes11065188
Lamar10522136
Pearl River9547237
Lafayette8557140
Hancock7740127
Washington7443160
Oktibbeha7147133
Monroe6787178
Warren6706176
Pontotoc6677104
Neshoba6642206
Panola6542131
Marshall6476135
Bolivar6323150
Union605794
Pike5824152
Alcorn5676102
Lincoln5439135
George497479
Scott473098
Tippah470381
Prentiss469182
Leflore4663144
Itawamba4640105
Adams4592119
Tate4592111
Copiah448792
Simpson4448116
Yazoo444887
Wayne440072
Covington429094
Sunflower4240105
Marion4232108
Coahoma4168107
Leake408688
Newton381779
Grenada3711108
Stone360664
Tishomingo360092
Attala331789
Jasper330165
Winston314691
Clay308977
Chickasaw301067
Clarke292594
Calhoun279447
Holmes267987
Smith264150
Yalobusha234547
Tallahatchie228251
Greene219449
Walthall218764
Lawrence213140
Perry205956
Amite205256
Webster203046
Noxubee186840
Montgomery179657
Jefferson Davis172243
Carroll169338
Tunica160039
Benton149239
Kemper141941
Choctaw133326
Claiborne132837
Humphreys129638
Franklin120328
Quitman106528
Wilkinson105139
Jefferson94734
Sharkey64220
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 820312

Reported Deaths: 15407
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1148731924
Mobile726221339
Madison52362697
Shelby37640350
Baldwin37266552
Tuscaloosa35120612
Montgomery34123740
Lee23540246
Calhoun22236488
Morgan20958378
Etowah19838500
Marshall18381304
Houston17394412
St. Clair16078339
Cullman15468293
Limestone15354199
Elmore15271286
Lauderdale14323295
Talladega13851283
DeKalb12664261
Walker11221370
Blount10207176
Autauga10048148
Jackson9877184
Coffee9211191
Dale8904185
Colbert8877201
Tallapoosa7093198
Escambia6778134
Covington6715183
Chilton6648162
Russell637559
Franklin5969105
Chambers5612142
Marion5010127
Dallas4979200
Pike4796106
Clarke475884
Geneva4575127
Winston4522103
Lawrence4327117
Bibb425386
Barbour357876
Marengo338390
Monroe331664
Randolph329864
Butler326796
Pickens316584
Henry312866
Hale311688
Cherokee302960
Fayette294180
Washington251651
Cleburne247760
Crenshaw245375
Clay243368
Macon234863
Lamar224847
Conecuh186353
Coosa180340
Lowndes175464
Wilcox168939
Bullock151744
Perry138940
Sumter133238
Greene126744
Choctaw88527
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Partly Cloudy
58° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 58°
Columbus
Clear
54° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 54°
Oxford
Partly Cloudy
52° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 44°
Feels Like: 52°
Starkville
Clear
54° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 54°
High pressure will dominate our weather forecast for our Tuesday. This means we will see some good weather for our Tuesday. However, some rain and thunderstorms will be in our weather forecast down the line with some more low pressure in our area.
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather