• Founded in 1981, Gotham Volleyball is New York’s largest LGBTQ sports organization.
  • It aims to foster the queer community through the camaraderie built around sports.
  • One gamer described Gotham as “a unique place in the LGBTQ+ community. It’s a home, it’s a family.”

Eight years ago, Brandon Gillis attended the New York City Pride Parade and was surprised to see volleyballs flying through the air. Members of Gotham Volleyball, New York’s largest LGBTQ sports organization, proudly displayed their banner as they walked the parade route.

Gillis, who played on her high school volleyball team, was intrigued. He signed up for the trials the following weekend. He has since played in international tournaments and is currently a volunteer coach.

“Gotham is a unique place in the LGBTQ+ community,” Gillis told Insider. “It’s a house, it’s a family. Even though we don’t have a volleyball match, we text each other. We have bands, we have a circle of friends – real friends. They don’t care how much you make or what job you have. You’re actually connecting with real people. When I meet other people in the LGBTQ+ community, I feel like they yearn for that. “

Founded in 1981, Gotham began as a small group of people playing together in Central Park. In the 41 years since, it has grown to include over 1,000 members. It’s one of dozens of LGBTQ sports leagues in New York — and across the United States — that aim to foster the queer community through the camaraderie built around sports.

Gotham Volleyball Parade at NYC Pride

Members of Gotham Volleyball participate in the New York Pride Parade.

Gotham Volleyball

“Sports is such a common denominator for everyone,” Andre Carneiro, who is Gotham’s treasurer as well as a player and captain, told Insider. “You end up meeting all these people, and sometimes much later you find out what they’re doing. It’s like, ‘Oh, wow, I’ve never known anyone who worked in this line of business I didn’t know that about you I I knew first where you were as a volleyball player I think it really expands the way you see the city, the way you see the queer experience, the way you see sport in general.”

In addition to a wide range of sports programs – including 11 divisions of play (from beginner to advanced), training and tournaments – Gotham also hosts a slate of networking and social events, National Coming Out Day panels at picnics and pastries.

“Our mission is to build community through volleyball,” Carneiro said. “So while volleyball is the reason we come together, when we make decisions, the decisions are usually about what’s most important to building the community. It’s not always what we want to aim for the most. high level of play and having teams that travel and win tournaments. . It is important. But we have found that to fulfill the mission, we must be open to all levels of play. It is a community-based organization first and foremost. .

Gotham Volleyball executives pose with a volleyball net in 2021.

Gotham Volleyball leaders in 2021.

Gotham Volleyball

Although Gotham strives to remain open to anyone who wishes to join, the league has become so popular that space is limited. Tryouts typically attract hundreds of potential players, and not all of them can make the cut. Carneiro says the members do their best to make newcomers feel comfortable.

“It’s overwhelming, especially if the experiences you’ve had with the sport before were things like, you were the last to get picked, or you wouldn’t get picked at all,” he said. “It brings up a lot of emotions for me and for a lot of people. To this day, if I have to try, it’s a nerve-wracking experience, and it’s been 24 seasons… I think we all have stories about our relationship to sport and our relationship to being gay in sport or queer in sport, so we never underestimate what a rollercoaster that can be.”

Members of Gotham Volleyball look at a display of postcards for National Coming Out Day in 2016.

A Gotham Volleyball event for National Coming Out Day in 2016.

Gotham Volleyball

Onri Noël, a player who also volunteered as captain and coach, wasn’t initially looking for a queer sports league when she moved to New York in 2013. She came across Gotham in a Google search.

“I think everything is so much better when you’re around people you can relate to,” she said. “The sense of community is just enhanced because they can all identify at least on a queer level. At this point, throughout my nine years here, everyone I know outside of work is from volleyball- ball one way or another.”

Noel also felt the power of the Gotham community firsthand when she began her gender transition a few years after joining the league.

“When I started my gender transition, it was actually the first year the league had a roundtable to shine a light on trans people,” she said. “I was one of the panelists and I was only three months into my transition. It was a really big turnout from people who were there to just listen to what I had to say and let me know that “They were supportive of my gender transition. I felt so much love in that moment. It was a good reminder that even if the world isn’t supporting us, our community is supporting us.”

This article is part of “We/Us/Ours,” a series about LGBTQ communities and spaces that inspire queer unity.