USRowing’s Support of LGBTQ+ Rowers and Placing the Masters Championships in Hostile Florida

Benderson Family Finish Tower. Photo © Marie Barge

25 June 2022

By Göran R Buckhorn

“We are living in a politically tumultuous time, and it is challenging for all of us to navigate changing realities,” USRowing writes in an open letter in an attempt to explain to the American rowing community why the 2022 USRowing Master National Championships was moved from Lake Merritt in Oakland, California, to Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota, Florida.

Some athletes and clubs have decided to not compete at the regatta at Nathan Benderson Park due to Florida’s discriminatory legislation “Parental Rights in Education” bill, which is commonly known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. (See Comment below, added on 26 June.) USRowing writes that the organization recognizes that some members of the rowing community did not feel that choosing Benderson Park was a transparent process and that certain rowers’ values were not heard. USRowing points out, however, that it strongly denounces the steps taken by the Florida governor and legislature and condemns any discrimination of the LGBTQ+ community and LGBTQ+ rowers.

When the Masters National Championships were held in Oakland in 2018, the Visit Oakland convention and visitors’ bureau contributed $100,000 to the regatta and had verbally committed to the same plan for the 2022 event. However, under new leadership, the Oakland bureau backed out of the deal “at the 11th hour.” The Masters Championships, to be held on 11-14 August, were then moved to Benderson Park, as USRowing didn’t want to cancel the championships and Benderson Park was able to organize the regatta.

“[We] do not believe a USRowing boycott of Florida is the best way to drive positive change,” USRowing says in its letter. Nathan Benderson Park is a world-class rowing site and probably the best in the U.S., so it would not be easy for USRowing to turn its back on the venue.

It was announced a month ago that Sarasota County is looking to create a $40 million multi-sport complex at the Benderson Park. The County is willing to add $20 million to the project while Benderson Park must come up with the rest of the funding.

USRowing’s open letter has a 15-bullet list of what the organization has done and is continuing to do to support LGBTQ+ rowers. USRowing also welcomes more ideas and feedback from USRowing members. The last has not been heard of this issue. To read the full open letter, go here.

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