Bright and early Saturday morning, around 100 people of different ages, gender identities and fitness levels lined up next to a lifeguard tower on Siesta Key Beach. A 10-second countdown commenced, and at the sound of “zero,” the herd of participants took off. The first official Great Gay 5K had begun.
An event that promotes unity, charity, health and wellness, the Great Gay 5K was planned by Claire Selius and RJ Huebert.
“I’m a proud member of the LGBT community, and I felt that there was not enough representation of us out there just having a fun race together,” Selius said.
Selius and Huebert are experienced race organizers, having launched the Great Mother’s Day Race in 2012 and the Great Father’s Day Race in 2013.
This race was different, however, in that it provided a space of representation for the LGBTQ+ community. This kind of visibility is especially important within the realm of sports and fitness–a realm which has, historically speaking, posed many issues for LGBTQ+ members.
“I think that it was a great event for representing a part of the world that needs to be louder,” Selius said.
One of the goals of the event was to create an atmosphere where supporters, families and members of the LGBTQ+ community could feel comfortable.
“It’s more than just running and staying healthy,” Huebert said. “It’s about meeting people in the community that have the same
beliefs and opinions that you do.”
It was also important for the organizers to try to bring out and unite the larger Sarasota community.
“We’re local people trying to get local people to come out and run with us,” Selius said.
Eleven students from New College of Florida (NCF) volunteered at the event. They were accompanied by Student Affairs staff members Tara Centeno and Dani McCalla, as well as the college’s VISTA Volunteer Coordinator, Josh Merced.
With a turnout of slightly over 100 participants, the Great Gay 5K’s first race is comparable to the second Great Mother’s Day Race in 2013, which had 180 participants.
“We think that Hurricane Irma caused a lack of sign-ups, for obvious reasons,” Huebert said.
In 2016, the Great Mother’s Day Race drew over 1,000 participants. If trends—and the ways in which Selius and Huebert organize their races—suggest anything, it’s probable that the Great Gay 5K will continue to gain support and participants in upcoming years.
In addition to promoting support and celebration for the Gay Rights Movement, the event provided partial proceeds to ALSO Youth in Sarasota and Metro Wellness in St. Petersburg.
ALSO Youth is a non-profit charity that strives to provide advocacy, leadership, support and outreach to LGBTQIA youth and their allies. These values are carried out through peer support services, educational programs and referrals for those aged 13 to 21.
Through upholding and spreading these values, ALSO Youth intends to enhance self-esteem, promote healthy dialogue and increase awareness of sexual minority youth issues.
“There’s this stigma that we’re just so different from everybody else […] but that’s all we ever want, to be looked at equally,” Selius said.
Metro Wellness is an organization committed to providing inclusive, supportive and relevant health and wellness services to the diverse community of the Tampa Bay area. The center offers comprehensive HIV services, including medical care and free testing.
In addition, various classes, social activities, support groups, youth programs, health and fitness programs, substance abuse programs and behavioral health services are offered.
For more information about the event, visit GreatGay5K.com or follow @GreatGay5K on Facebook and Instagram.
Information obtained from greatgay5k.com, alsoyouth.org and metrotampabay.org