Sports

Road of Rainbows striding toward queer inclusivity in athletics

Organizers of the first LGBTQ+ 5K in Massachusetts are on a mission to make organized athletics more welcoming to the queer community.

Mal Malme started running as a teenager. After beating cancer 12 years ago, Malme decided to take on the Boston Marathon.

But Malme, who prefers a gender-neutral pronoun, was dismayed to have to pick a box before they could run: “male” or “female.” 

There was no other option.

“So I picked one,” said Malme, a Boston theater artist who is non-binary. For Malme, running was a significant part of their cancer recovery process. They also run for charity, infusing a motivating sense of purpose into each step. But, Malme says, “I have to hide who I am in order to participate. I’m not the only one [in the queer community] who experiences this.”

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Malme said they often look at their running medals and think, “I have all these wonderful medals and not one of those events I could run and check the box that was for me.”

For the LGBTQ community, Mal’s experience is all too familiar. Though some races don’t require a gender selection to participate, most of them do. That’s why organizers of the upcoming Road of Rainbows 5K road race in the Boston Common created an all-inclusive race that welcomes runners of all identities, ages, and physical abilities. 

A collaboration between the Boston Theater Company (BTC) and the Artist Athletic Association (AAA), the road race is the first LGBTQ+ 5k in Massachusetts. It takes place on Oct. 31 at 3 p.m. and is expected to draw as many as 500 people to the Common. The race’s fundraising goal is to support the local arts community while also raising awareness around gender inclusion in athletics.

The Road to Rainbows race will not ask participants to identify with any gender, nor will it ask about age. 

“This will be one of the only races where you don’t have to check off if you’re male or female, said organizer Joey Frangieh, Producing Artistic Director of Boston Theater Company. “A lot of queer people don’t identify with the binary.”

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Frangieh first brainstormed the idea for the race years ago, when he was working on “Finish Line: A Documentary Play About the 2013 Boston Marathon.” That project introduced him to the athletic community, and he even went on to complete the Boston Marathon.

“What I realized is that there are a lot of similarities between an artist and an athlete. When I think about what an artist is, there is a lot of teamwork, dedication, endurance, and working together,” he said. 

But Frangieh also found the sports world to be heteronormative, with much of the queer community feeling excluded from athletic events, like races.

“Boston is such a sporty, athletic city and that’s awesome, but it’s long overdue for an all-inclusive event,” he said, adding that he hopes the race will become an annual event.

Malme is one of five designated counselors tasked with oversight, veto, and decision power to help ensure Road of Rainbows is truly inclusive. They described the Road of Rainbows as a call to action for change within local athletics and said they hope the race sparks similar events that broaden the scope of inclusivity. 

“I hope this starts a conversation,” Malme said. “I hope people see how great an event can be when everyone can join in — how much more vibrant and alive it is when all of humanity can take part and celebrate who they are. We are on a path of improvement but it is still very much a binary system.”

What to Know Before You Go to Road of Rainbows

When: Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021

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Where: Meet at the Boston Common

What to wear: Costumes are encouraged!

Ticket cost: In-person ticket, $50; Subsidized ticket, $20; Virtual run ticket, $20. Registration ends at noon on race day.

How to join: Register at Bostontheater.org/ror

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