row2k Features
Creating Open Space in the Lightweight League
May 24, 2019
Ed Moran, row2k.com

Lorenzo Frati rowing four-seat in the Columbia lighteight third-varsity eight at Sprints

By the end of his second year of rowing on the Columbia University lightweight squad, Lorenzo Frati was sure he was gay. But he was unsure about when, or how, to tell his teammates and friends.

Even though he was rowing for coach Nich Lee Parker, his openly gay coach who recruited him when Frati was a high school athlete at Gulliver Prep in Miami, FL, he was still more than a little nervous about coming out.

"I was petrified," he said. "And I had a gay coach, and another gay teammate."

He kept it to himself until the fall of his junior year, and when New Zealand men's single sculler Robbie Manson was visiting Columbia, staying with Parker before rowing in the Head of the Charles Regatta.

Frati saw a role model in Manson, an openly gay elite athlete who holds the current world's best time in the men's single, and decided to confide in him and seek his advice. "I think that a lot of gay rowers, at any level, know about Robbie Manson, and I had been lucky to be introduced to Robbie by Nich."

"I had a couple of meals with Robbie, and I came out to him and explained the situation. And that's when I started to get the courage to come out to my team."

What he then learned confirmed his belief that Columbia's rowing team was an accepting and positive environment, that his teammates cared about him, and that he was safe to be who he wanted to be. But that is not the entire point of telling the story of how Frati came out. What is more important is what has happened since.

In the months following his opening up, Frati began communicating with other openly gay athletes rowing in the IRA Sprints league. He found there were multiple gay men and women throughout the league.

Some of them were already good friends, and over drinks during a break from school, two of them had the idea of forming a group of openly gay athletes rowing in the lightweight league, and they talked about it with Frati the next week.

What they envisioned in their following conversations was an association that loosely existed as a chat group that regularly communicated online, and that met when the schools competed against each other.

Frati said the goal was to "create visibility, and a safe space" where the members could support each other, share ideas, and serve as support for any other athlete new to collegiate rowing who, like Frati, was unsure how be public about their sexuality.

Before too long, the group was formed and called the G150.

And it has been a success. Fifteen members grew to 24 this year, and now include a freshman from another team who learned about the group's existence and sought Frati's guidance. "At the beginning of this year, two friends of mine contacted me to say they had a new teammate they suspected was gay," Frati explained. The new rower had not confided to anyone on the team, and Frati's friends wanted advice on how to make him feel welcome and safe.

"They suspected he was gay, and that he was not out at the time. They asked me what they could do to try and show him he was in a safe and comfortable environment. They wanted him to know the team was a place where he could feel comfortable coming out."

Frati suggested that they talk about G150 between them in the locker room, and in the presence of the freshman, so that he might overhear them and reach out. And, that is exactly what happened. The new rower direct-messaged Frati, and he is now part of the G150.

Frati graduated from Columbia this past week, and will compete for the last time as a collegiate rower at the IRA Championships next week in Sacramento, California.

Nich Lee Parker with Frati on the awards dock at the EARC Sprints

But before he goes, he is hoping to spread the word of the G150, in the hopes that not only will it continue to grow and help new athletes in the league, but that word of the group will spread down to the high school ranks.

Frati hopes that by becoming known beyond the Sprints League, G150 could possibly provide the kind of strength, and the encouragement, younger athletes may need to pursue their dreams - the same way Parker and Manson did for him, and the way G150 did for the athletes who are now part of the group.

It's a goal that coach Parker is fully embracing:

"Sports are rightfully touted as mediums to teach resilience, cooperation, trust, and commitment to a unified goal. It seems such a simple thing to just "be yourself", but we know that's not always the case.

This group however, is not only living that truth, but also making it known that others can too. That foundation of bringing your whole self to your team is one upon which all of those lessons we strive to teach in sports can thrive."
Columbia Coach Nich Lee Parker

"Sports are rightfully touted as mediums to teach resilience, cooperation, trust, and commitment to a unified goal. It seems such a simple thing to just "be yourself", but we know that's not always the case.

"This group however, is not only living that truth, but also making it known that others can too. That foundation of bringing your whole self to your team is one upon which all of those lessons we strive to teach in sports can thrive," Parker said.

"What started out as two kids taking over drinks turned into three kids putting the idea into practice," Frati said. "We are now at 24 active rowers with representation from nine teams. When we started out, we were seeking awareness within our teams and the league - acknowledgement that there are gay athletes rowing, and they row at a high level.

"But now as we move towards the end of the year, and as I have one foot out the door, we are discussing what we can do to show visibility at the next level," he said.

"What we would really love to happen, and what can be the next evolution of our group, would be to extend our visibility to the whole rowing world," he said. "We would start small, but at least get our foot in the door with youth rowing to the point that kids checking on row2k can see our picture, click on a link, and see there is gay representation at the collegiate rowing level."

G150 at Sprints with Columbia Coach Nich Lee Parker (far right)


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