“That inclusive environment is really important” | Pride Month photoshoot highlights LGBTQIA+ community

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Love is, at times, a funny thing.

Not that we would have it any other way, of course. But it can’t be argued that the sacrifices we make for love can sometimes be hard to understand from the outside: dropping off a sibling at Logan Airport at 4 a.m., or cleaning up after the dog for the umpteenth time … or showing up to Gillette Stadium on a rainy Saturday night when the team is going through a rough patch.

Indeed, American fans of The Beautiful Game may know better than most how mysterious love can be. We let our emotions, not to mention our schedules, be dictated by the teams we support around the world, often to the confusion of our friends and family, who find the sport complicated, or maybe even the dreaded “boring.” But time and time again, once someone has caught the soccer bug, they’re hooked – for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, till death do us part.

And once we have fallen in love with the game, we love all the more to share it with others. We find our community, our people, our place where we belong, and we dive in head-first. At the end of the day, a place to belong with people who understand you is all anyone can ask for in life.

Unfortunately, for far too long, that sense of belonging has been hard to come by for members of the LGBTQIA+ community. After a while, the experience of being left on the outside created its own sense of shared identity, but, like anyone else, all anyone in the LGBTQIA+ community wants is to find a place where they are accepted for who they are and who they love.

And for Chawney Weis, finding inclusive spaces like Stonewall Sports’ Boston chapter has been truly game-changing.

“For me personally it’s been one of the best experiences of my life, just coming in and knowing that I can be who I want to be, and I can find people who are welcoming and inclusive to everyone,” she said. “It’s really impactful for myself and for the entire community.”

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Weis was one of a number of representatives from the New England Revolution’s many community partners present last week for a Pride Month photoshoot at View Boston, atop the Prudential Tower. Her organization, Stonewall Sports, provides recreational leagues for six sports ranging from billiards to volleyball aimed at offering an inclusive environment for LGBTQIA+ individuals and their allies.

“We’re just a really fun group,” she said. “We welcome all skill levels [to] meet new people and have a good time.”

One of the players representing the Revs at the photoshoot was Malcolm Fry, whose own love for the game has already taken him across the ocean for a time. He said that allyship was important, for him and for everyone, but especially for a professional athlete with a platform to be a positive force for change.

“Always being respectful, and always being loving, and always being a kind person is a really important value of mine,” he said. “Anything that goes along with the ‘Love Unites’ slogan is something that I’m going to get behind. It’s really important to me, and I think that the team does a good job of embodying that spirit.”

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That slogan – “Love Unites” – is emblazoned on the front of every Pride Top worn by players across Major League Soccer during this month of June. For Weis, she said that those words could hardly be more meaningful.

“Especially during Pride Month, but all year long,” she said. “We really focus and drive in the idea of inclusiveness, and ‘Love who you want to love,’ and ‘Be who you want to be.’ Just having that inclusive environment is really important and impactful.”

Kevin Chambers, a member of the Revs Amputee Soccer team, was also proud to be at the Pru last week, having the opportunity to share that message of inclusiveness for all.

“It makes me extremely proud,” he said. “Our tagline is, ‘Soccer For All,’ and that means everyone, regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation, or physical ability. So, I’m very proud to be out here representing the LGBT community as well as the disabled community.”

He went on to say that the ‘Love Unites’ slogan was representative of not only a meaningful attitude, but a pivotal one, a value that can actively help to shift paradigms in those who abide by it.

“That’s the way to get rid of discrimination in your heart, is compassion, love,” he said. “Like I said, whether it’s about who you are or how you get around, a little compassion, a little love, makes sure everyone is included.”

Pride Parade

Alongside Fry were Ian Harkes, Ryan Spaulding, and Jack Panayotou rocking the Pride Top from 50 stories above the hustle and bustle of Boston. With everyone present united not only by their love for soccer but also by their support for allyship and the LGBTQIA+ community, Panayotou said that it was incumbent on him as a player and on the entire Revolution organization to continue to use their platform to celebrate inclusivity and speak out for change.

“We have a platform as players, and these are important issues,” he said. “I’m happy to use any platform I have to bring awareness to these groups and to continue to let them know that they have our support.”

And those words weren’t hollow; Weis said that it meant the world to her and to Stonewall Sports to have support from an organization like the Revolution.

“We love the Revolution,” she said. “We love the partnership. It’s really great just to have a big partner, big name recognition, and someone we can go to if we need things. We’re fully non-profit, so it really helps to have those partnerships.”

A number of other groups got to participate in the photoshoot, including the Boston Strikers, who organize leagues and competitions for LGBTQIA+ soccer players and their allies around Boston, as well as advocacy groups like PFLAG and BAGLY. Not everyone standing on the observation deck overlooking the city was the same – in how they identified with their sexual orientation, or in how they came to love the sport of soccer, or in how they responded to being a few hundred feet above Boylston Street. One thing they all had in common, though, was their commitment to inclusion, to each other, and to seeing that spirit of inclusivity spread throughout society, this month and year-round. And that, just like looking over the Back Bay on a clear day, is a pretty nice view.