Gay Polo League’s mission is about more than sport

chipThe equestrian world is a vast and colorful place. It is home to people from all walks of life, of all ages and incomes and backgrounds. A shared love for horses binds all equestrians. Chip McKenney fell in love with polo at age 50, after he’d retired from jumping. He took one lesson and never looked back.

While learning the sport, McKenney was also looking for a way to socialize and enjoy sports with other people in the LGBT community. He founded the Gay Polo League ten years ago as a way to enjoy his beloved sport and meet new people. The GPL has its own tournament and events throughout the year, but the team also plays in mainstream polo tournaments. McKenney sees the GPL polo team as ambassadors for the gay community. In a world where LGBT people often encounter bigotry and hatred, the GPL is working to change minds, one match at a time, he said.

“We’ve been received extremely well in the equestrian world and that, in all honesty, came as a bit of a surprise,” McKenney said. “Certainly a pleasant surprise, but I didn’t anticipate it. Polo is a very macho game. It’s a game that has a lot of players from heavy religious backgrounds or Catholic countries. And I thought it might be a problem, but it really hasn’t been. I think because it is a team sport, they really don’t care. They just want you to play. So they judge you on the field and not for your sexuality.”

The GPL, which recently earned nonprofit status, offers lessons and clinics from its base at Palm City Polo Club in Boynton Beach. The highlight of the year is the annual tournament in April at the International Polo Club Palm Beach, where the tailgating competition has evolved into an art form.

“One of my favorites was Gert’s Cut and Curl,” McKenney said. “Gert is a famous drag persona. They set up a 1950s salon. They had actual hair dryers and magazines from the ’50s. They had wash basins, and they’d lean you back and bring up the hose like they’re going to wash your hair, and they’d shoot vodka into your mouth. It was the wildest thing in the world. Last year, the best in show did a Brunch at Tiffany’s theme. It was so beautiful and tasteful. Those were my two favorites.”

McKenney hopes the players in the GPL will quietly change the world from atop their ponies. What started as a way to socialize has become a catalyst for visibility.

“If you’re in a gay softball league, for example, you can play all over the world but you’re playing against other gay softball leagues,” McKenney said. “So you’re not reaching the people that are holding us back. I’d really like to see the GPL be an effective instrument of change. I would like to introduce more people to the game of polo. And there’s something really wonderful about the sport. I think anyone that tries it once will get it and they’ll want to try it again. So I’d like to be that instrument of change to that end as well and attract more people to the sport.”

Amy Bower Doucette writes about the equestrian communities for Neighborhood Post. Send mail to 2751 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach, FL 33405. Call 561-820-4763, fax 561-837-8320.

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