This Queer Running Group Wants to Make the Sport More Inclusive

There are actually a lot of small ways to make races more welcoming.
This Queer Running Group Wants to Make the Sport More Inclusive
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For Jake Fedorowski, running is a reset. When they log miles around their home in Seattle, they’re connecting with their body and mind, and “escaping from the chaos” of everyday life. 

Without it, Fedorowski tells SELF, they wouldn’t be able to show up as their authentic self and keep on pushing for change, especially in regard to LGBTQ+ inclusion in the running community—and it’s a space that needs it.

But through the grassroots efforts of queer runners, including Fedorowski, progress is finally in motion.

After seeing a handful of races like the New York City Marathon and Philadelphia Distance Run debut nonbinary divisions in 2021, Fedorowski created The Guide to Nonbinary Inclusion in Running last year. This free program helps race directors develop more inclusive events, hitting on things from pronoun usage in registration to the signage and colors of port-a-potties. They also work as a consultant, advising race organizers—including those from the Chicago and San Francisco marathons, respectively—on best practices for hosting nonbinary divisions. To help runners find competitions with these categories, they created a database of nearly 300 races that have publicized such offerings.

Now, Fedorowski has teamed up with a group of fellow activists who want to expand these efforts on a national scale. On May 17—the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia—they announced the launch of the Queer Running Society (QRS), a collective that advocates for LGBTQ+ inclusion and representation in the running industry. 

The leadership of QRS is made up of supporters from different facets of the running community, including road, trail, and track and field. Together, they seek to connect queer running communities—the organization’s website already lists more than 60 queer run clubs across the country—campaign for representation in leadership roles, boards, and panels in races and other running events; share queer resources; compile feedback on event atmosphere and inclusion initiatives from the queer community; and determine the numbers of queer participants. They also hope to create a certification program that race organizers can use to indicate that their event is a safe space for LGBTQ+ people—say, if it follows certain criteria, like including a nonbinary division, all-gender restrooms, and trans-inclusion policies.

“The whole goal is to elevate and bring the experiences, initiatives, and stories of these different queer communities to the forefront,” Fedorowski says. “Bring it all together, put it in front of the running industry, and show that not only are we here and have been here, but also that there are solutions, and things we can do as an industry to make sure this community is included in the future of the sport.”

During the height of the pandemic, the number of queer running groups increased around the country, but the lack of LGBTQ+ representation among running leadership, events, and marketing was still glaring, Fedorowski says. At the same time, the queer community has faced a heightened wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation for the last several years. As of today, the ACLU is tracking 482 anti-LGBTQ bills in the US, many of which target transgender-youth participation in sports. Within this climate, the organization hopes to combat these attacks.  

Fedorowski is also hoping that the group can help draw a new generation of runners to the sport. According to a 2022 RunSignup survey, running-event participation among 18- to 29-year-olds has continued to dip over the past decade. Creating inclusive spaces for LGBTQ+  young people, Fedrowski says, could help welcome more first-time runners

Over the years, Fedorowski has experienced the power of representation firsthand. While they initially discovered running on an individual level in college, they later found community through the Seattle Frontrunners, a running and walking group for LGBTQ+ individuals and allies. It was through that group that distance running began to stick. While working out on their own, Fedrowski never imagined that they’d complete a marathon. But being part of a community—where the runners receive and give encouragement—inspired Fedorowski to go for it. Now, they’re training to race their third 26.2 in October at the Chicago Marathon, where they will continue to create space so others in the queer community can see themselves in the sport. 

“Having something like [QRS] would’ve inspired me to get into the running community much faster than I did and discover all the wonderful benefits at a much younger age,” Fedorowski says. “I hope [QRS] can serve as a representation for the queer community, so that we can participate and thrive in this sport.”