In skating I think it’s safe to say we’ve all seen or heard our fair share of something that goes like this: ‘it doesn’t matter who you are, just skate’. But the fact is this isn’t necessarily true. While the ‘it doesn’t matter’ attitude can be liberating for some, for others it can feel like it’s being used to push against the ever diversifying world of skateboarding as an excuse to keep enacting outdated and non-inclusive behaviour. Speaking to Chandler Burton in the LGBTQIA+ episode of Loveletters to Skateboarding, Jeff Grosso says it well:
“Skateboarders think that they’re so forward-thinking and progressive that by […] the very nature of the act […] we’re all out in the streets and you come across […] every walk of life navigating the streets. […] But the reality of it is quite different.”Jeff Grosso
When it comes to LGBTQIA+ issues in skating, there is still some catching up to do. As much as anything else, skating has the potential to act as a microcosm of wider society, which in turn shapes how people act within it. Skating’s traditionally “macho” image prevented many women entering the scene for a good chunk of time, and has almost certainly affected queer skaters to varying degrees. In the 70s and 80s, Terry Lawrence says that before he was able to define his identity he could channel it through skating, where he “didn’t have to conform to stereotypes”:
“I could express my masculinity and my competitive aggressiveness and it wasn’t looked down upon in a way that it would have been in another type of sport.”Terry Lawrence for Skateism
In Terry’s case, skateboarding’s perceived hyper-masculinity helped him express his true self. In other cases, ideas about what skateboarding is or is “supposed” to be may stop queer skaters coming out, or even stop potential new LGBTQIA+ skaters from starting. Outdated terms for body varials and transition are just two quick examples of the power of language and how it can alienate those it is derogatory toward. Casual homophobia and transphobia usually resulting from old but lingering attitudes can make LGBTQIA+ skaters feel there isn’t space for them in skateboarding, which is far from the truth. This was the case for Brian Anderson, who cited offhand comments as a primary reason he thought he wouldn’t be accepted as a gay skater in his Vice Sports interview.
At this point it’s worth mentioning that cis female skaters have mostly been spared from this sense of alienation, and that being queer in women’s skateboarding has always been pretty normalised. Perhaps thirty years ago the fact that girls and other underrepresented genders were skating at all was seen as such a “thing” that debate about their sexualities fell by the wayside, at least to a degree. Maybe communities outside of mainstream skateboarding become more inclusive overall because they know what it’s like to feel at odds with the wider community. But who knows. Whatever the reason, the visibility of these skaters has contributed to a good portion of LGBTQIA+ representation in skateboarding, something that is continuing to grow and diversify.
LGBTQIA+-specific initiatives are helping to grow the skate scene, getting more people involved, proving that queer people have always wanted to/do skate, and contribute to the wider community. Unity’s official launch in 2017 has gotten countless people involved in skating through their meet-ups, and founder’s Jeff and Gabriel have been known to give away decks to queer skaters. Skate Like a Girl’s Seattle chapter reported increased numbers of participation when they changed their ‘Ladies Night’ to a ‘Women and Trans’ session. Trans and gender non-conforming visibility in skating is on the rise – since Jenkem covered Hillary Thompson back in 2013, Marbie, Cher Strauberry, and Leo Baker are names that have become as common as any other pro. Cher is the first transwoman to have her own board, which is now part of the Smithsonian’s collection; and was featured in GQ alongside Leo and Stephen Ostrowski earlier this month, talking about their co-founding of Glue Skateboards.
Hopefully queer representation and movements will continue to grow within skateboarding and grow skateboarding itself, inspiring others to be themselves, and make skating a more inclusive and accepting space. As Wren, a contributor to our #SkateWithPride campaign mentioned, the LGBTQIA+ skate scene in the UK is still small, and definitely has room to grow. However that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Edinburgh’s Queer Skate Collective has inspired similar groups to spring up in Glasgow, Dundee, and Newcastle, and Sibling recently took the cover of the Evening Standard’s ES Magazine. At grassroots level London’s Keep Pushing Co is creating a community skatepark and art space, founded by Rae Smith. In a recent Instagram post Keep Pushing spoke to the power of representation, saying “it’s about inspiring other people […] underrepresented in skateboarding – to pick up a board.”
This is something Girl Skate UK have always been about – we want to provide a welcoming and supportive atmosphere through our events and platform to ensure skating is accessible. While the focus has always been on making space for and empowering underrepresented genders, all have always been welcome. Whether this is through our previous Push the Prom events in Brighton, our birthday jams, or other events, we want to continue fostering an inclusive community, and get people involved! 🏳🌈
For more, be sure to check out our #SkateWithPride campaign on insta here!