How New York's largest LGBTQ sports organization builds queer community through volleyball
- Founded in 1981, Gotham
Volleyballis the largest LGBTQ sportsorganization in New York City.
- It aims to foster queer community through the camaraderie built around sports.
Eight years ago, Brandon Gillis attended New York City's Pride March and was surprised to see volleyballs flying through the air. Members of Gotham Volleyball, New York's largest
Gillis, who played on his high school's volleyball team, was intrigued. He signed up for tryouts the following weekend. He's since played in international tournaments and currently volunteers as a coach.
"Gotham is a unique place in the LGBTQ+ community," Gillis told Insider. "It's a home, it's a family. Even if we don't have a volleyball game, we'll text each other. We have groups, we have a circle of friends — genuine friends. They don't care about how much you make or what job you have. You're actually connecting with real people. When I do meet other people in the LGBTQ+ community, I feel like they're yearning for that."
Founded in 1981, Gotham began as a small group of people playing together in Central Park. In the 41 years since, it's grown to include more than 1,000 members. It's one of dozens of LGBTQ sports leagues in New York City — and across the US — that aim to foster queer community through the camaraderie built around sports.
In addition to a wide range of sports programming — including 11 divisions of play (from beginner to advanced), training, and tournaments — Gotham also hosts a slate of networking and social events, from National Coming Out Day panels to picnics and bake-offs.
"Our mission is to build community through volleyball," Carneiro said. "So while volleyball is why we get together, when we make decisions, the decisions are usually around what's most important to build the community. It's not always that we want to aim at the highest level of play and have teams traveling around and winning tournaments. That is important. But we found that to fulfill the mission, we have to be open to all levels of play. It's a community-first organization."Though Gotham strives to remain open to everyone who wants to join, the league has become so popular that space is limited. Tryouts typically attract hundreds of prospective players, and not all of them can make the cut. Carneiro says members do their best to put newcomers at ease.
"It's overwhelming, especially if the experiences you had with sports before were things like, you were the last one to be picked, or you wouldn't get picked at all," he said. "That brings up a lot of emotions for me and for a lot of people. To this day, if I have to try out, it's a nerve-wracking experience, and it's been 24 seasons … I think all of us have stories about our relationship with sports and our relationship with being gay in sports or queer in sports, so we never underestimate how much of a roller coaster that can be."
Onri Noël, a player who has also volunteered as a captain and coach, wasn't initially looking for a queer sports league when she moved to New York City in 2013. She stumbled upon Gotham in a Google search.
"I think anything is just that much better when you're around people to whom you can relate," she said. "The sense of community is just heightened because they can all relate on at least the queer level. At this point, throughout my nine years here, everyone who I know outside of work is from volleyball in some way."
Noël also felt the power of the Gotham community firsthand when she began her gender transition a few years into joining the league.
"When I started my gender transition, that actually lined up with the first year that the league put on a panel discussion to spotlight trans people," she said. "I was one of the panelists, and I was only three months into my transition. It was a very large turnout for people who were there to basically just listen to what I had to say and let me know that they supported my gender transition. I felt so much love in that moment. It was a good reminder that even though the world may not have our back, our community does have our back."
This article is part of "We/Us/Ours," a series about LGBTQ spaces that encourage queer support and empowerment.
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