A 'queer sports revolution' is making Hamilton a haven for inclusive athletics

Queer Hockey Hamilton organizers, including Katie Campanella, back left, participate in a ceremonial puck drop at the organization's first tournament, held in April at the Wentworth Sports Complex. (Submitted by Queer Hockey Hamilton - image credit)
Queer Hockey Hamilton organizers, including Katie Campanella, back left, participate in a ceremonial puck drop at the organization's first tournament, held in April at the Wentworth Sports Complex. (Submitted by Queer Hockey Hamilton - image credit)

When the Steel City Inclusive Softball Association launched in 2019, its founders were looking for ways to bring the 2SLGBTQ+ communities in Hamilton together.

"We knew this city had a vibrant queer community and it seemed to be missing that binding agent that brought folks from different walks together," said co-founder Jeff Lindstrom. "Sports have a unique ability to do that."

What he didn't yet know is just how many local 2SLGBTQ+ athletes were quietly waiting in the woodwork for just such a field of dreams: build it and they will come — and not just to softball. Since then, the city has seen an explosion in athletic groups and leagues geared toward the queer community:

  • Mellow Queer Volleyball

  • Hamilton Queer Curling

  • Queer Dimes (basketball)

  • Rainbow Moves HamOnt (yoga/pilates)

  • Queer Axe Throwing

  • Queer Hockey Hamilton

  • Queer Biking Hamilton

It's to the point where you can get active with other queer folks almost every night of the week, and where people from outside of Hamilton are increasingly coming here to play in a welcoming environment, says Queer Hockey Hamilton (QHH) co-founder Katie Campanella.

"[The inclusive softball league] really drove this queer sports revolution."

Being a mid-size city, it's been easy to build community and momentum through queer sports because there's so few degrees of separation between people, says Campanella.

"I am trying to go to a lot and see a lot of familiar faces," she said.

Hundreds showed up to queer hockey last winter

Campanella's organization is wrapping up a banner winter season, holding 11 shinny sessions, three hockey skills classes and a tournament. Queer Hockey Hamilton's second ball hockey season just started, and the organization is getting ready for a glow-in-the-dark, three-on-three hockey event for Pride month at the Burlington Pond on June 15.

Courtesy of Queer Hockey Hamilton
Courtesy of Queer Hockey Hamilton

Altogether, hundreds of hockey players have attended QHH events, she says, showing just how many people were eager for inclusive places to play hockey — a sport that isn't always the most welcoming to queer individuals.


For instance, the organization's ball hockey league was born after several members played a season in a traditional ball hockey league and found it completely inhospitable.

"They wouldn't outwardly say there was an issue with the queer folks but there was definitely some underlying homophobia," she recalled. "We had quite an awful season, to be honest…. We vowed never to be in another league again."

'Everyone is in your corner'

Queer Axe Throwing began as a winter activity for queer softball players, but has grown over several years and now will hold its first summer season, says league-runner Tyler Jeffrey.

"We're at a record of 28 people this season," he said, noting leagues in that sport — where competitors must throw an axe at a target from behind a line — typically last for seven or eight weeks.

Part of the sport's culture is to choose a nickname that appears on the screen above the lane during a thrower's turn, says Jeffrey, noting players in Hamilton's queer league include Throwy Chloe and Princess Peach. He goes by BOoOoOoOTY.

Submitted by BATL Hamilton
Submitted by BATL Hamilton

"Lots of silly nicknames and inside jokes," he said. "When people's names get called up, there's a lot of wooing."

He says what separates the queer league from others run out of BATL Hamilton, the axe-throwing venue on James Street, is just knowing that everyone can participate as they are.

"It gives the energy that everyone is in your corner," he said. "I wouldn't say it lacks competitive energy but it's more like playing with your siblings."

Community picnic to follow Pride-month sports crawl

To celebrate Pride month in June, Jeffrey and other leaders in the 2SLGBTQ+ sports community are working to create something special that will bring all the different organizations and their members together.

They're creating a queer sports crawl, where participating groups open their doors to drop-ins on certain nights, and participants try to complete their queer sports punch card in an effort to win prizes.

"Sometimes trying a new thing is really intimidating," said Jeffrey. "This way you can come for an hour, come for half an hour. If it isn't your thing you can check it off your list and maybe win a prize."

It will all culminate in a queer sports picnic, set for July 7 at Eastwood Park, where inclusive softball already happens every Sunday throughout the summer.

Submitted by Ashley Letts
Submitted by Ashley Letts

Lindstrom, from the softball league, says it's "incredible" to see how quickly the inclusive sports ecosystem has grown.

"Oftentimes people in our community didn't have positive experiences with sports growing up for a variety of reasons," he said.

"To see people feel what it's like to have a team of people cheering them on in a supportive environment for the first time is a pretty incredible experience."