Walk up 17th Street NW on a clear spring evening and you might notice revellers in matching shirts and tight athletic shorts, guzzling drinks and bragging about their latest scores. Get your mind out of the gutter—they’re talking about kickball. Stonewall Sports started out three years ago with 90 kickballers. Today, the traditional Sunday league alone boasts 24 teams and 650 players, and the organization is expanding to three other sports and five cities. Though sometimes accused of offering just another excuse to get trashed during daylight, the nonprofit has also raised more than $150,000 for primary beneficiary the D.C. Center and other local causes.
Stonewall’s success lies in the goal of founders Martin Espinoza and Mark Gustafson, shared by lots of athletic-leaning gays: to play sports in a safe, fun environment far from the homophobia and hetero norms of other leagues. It may seem glib to name a sports league after the formative 1969 riot, but the Stonewall brand serves as a subtle wink to LGBTQ folks seeking fun outside the untz-untz club scene. And, for many, it provides an important history lesson. “Some people think it’s the brick wall at Stead Park,” says Espinoza of the name, referencing the field where the games are played. “It’s a good reminder to say the only reason you have…a safe space to play is that [gay rights] movement.”