The queer community finds freedom on their wheels
It's 8 p.m. on a Friday night at the Skate Park of Tampa and Cynamon is on four-wheeled skates and practicing her slides on a flat rail.
Cynamon — who is queer and two-spirit — is a St. Petersburg resident who's spent a lot of time on wheels since the pandemic started.
"I think that's now more than ever really important for us all to be able to have spaces where we don't feel like we're judged or threatened. And we're just able to be and have queer joy, which is super magical,” Cynamon said.
Cynamon started skating during the George Floyd protests, because it was easier to get around. It was there that she found refuge and solidarity in the skating community.
“It was a way for me and one of my other friends to keep up with the protests. I'm five foot and she is not much taller. And it was kind of just a way to be able to walk and stay, especially when there's times where we are doing two or three protests starts a day.”
They started calling themselves the "Gay Commie Skate Crew," after insults hurled at them by counter-protesters. Cynamon said the name was an act of taking those labels back, and reclaiming them, much like the larger community did with the word "queer."
"So it kind of just like a funny thing that we took, you know, and we just made it our own,” Cynamon said.
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The skate crew recently expanded beyond protests and began regular meet-ups at places like The Spot, where queer folks across the greater Tampa Bay region are invited to skate — or even learn to skate — in a welcoming environment.
Roller skating has a long history of diversity and inclusion. From integrated skating in the 1930s to roller disco, it's no surprise that today's roller derby groups and skate crews have a tendency to attract people of color and members of the queer community.
"Skate culture, in general, kind of exists on like, the periphery of society, right?” said Taro, a genderqueer St. Petersburg resident.
“Like, it's not mainstream, it's always kind of like been looked at as kind of like, ‘oh, like those punks, like, go get them skating, right?’ But that's like, where some of the most profound communities are created is like on the margins of society."
They say isolation is dangerous for the queer community in light of book bans, the state's so-called "Don't Say Gay" law, bans on gender-affirming care for trans youth, and more.
"This whole event is about accessing a space that may be otherwise inaccessible to people like us, where we can calmly move our bodies, and we can play and, like, engage in a very important kind of play, where it's just all about finding joy. It's not about being good,” Taro said.
The Gay Commie Skate Crew recently hosted a queer beginners’ skate night, open to all levels of experience. Nearly 40 people attended.
Nico Baisley, who is 15 and agender, is new to skateboarding and eager to
experience a sport outside of high school.
"It's nice to, like, go from that environment, like a school, a very strict, heteronormative environment, to then like something so like, nice and free and queer."
Nico's friend, 16-year-old Oliver Hansen, is nonbinary.
"I know that I'm in a judgment-free space ... I was trying to go over a ramp and I fell and, like, people around me, like, they were cheering for me and being, like, Yeah, you did it. You did such a good job."
Back on one of the skatepark's outside pads Cynamon slides across the concrete and then does a little spin.
"God It's very freeing,” she said, laughing. “Very, very freeing. It's almost like the closest thing you can get to flying."
She said the queer joy she feels on her skates is an act of resistance in the face of people who seek to erase her and other members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
And that, she said, is most freeing of all.
For more information on the Gay Commie Skate Crew's meet-ups, visit their Instagram page.
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