Gay Polo League brings wigs, rainbows & drag queens to the biggest LGBTQ+ polo tourney in the world

When Chip McKenney moved to Los Angeles two decades ago, he was struggling to find community. An accomplished equestrian, he tried attending various social clubs and events, but nothing took hold.

That is, until he drove north to Santa Barbara. McKenney took a polo lesson at the Santa Barbara Polo Club, and instantly took a liking to the unorthodox sport.

Nearly 20 years later, McKenney heads the Gay Polo League, the only LGBTQ+ polo organization in the world. Next week, the group will hold its annual tournament in Wellington, Fla., attracting over 3,000 players from around the globe.

Participants come from far and wide–Argentina, London, Saint Tropez–and descend on South Florida for polo and camaraderie.

“Growing up, I did not see openly gay athletes identified on television. I assumed I was the only gay person who loved sports. In my adulthood, I witnessed how even the idea of being out could potentially ruin an athlete’s career,” McKenney told Metro Source in a recent interview. “The Gay Polo League provides a safe and supportive environment for LGBTQ athletes to train and compete, openly and authentically.”

While McKenney was intimately familiar with horse riding, polo was a mystery. He didn’t even start playing the sport until he was 50 years old, and had no idea whether it would be welcoming to LGBTQ+ folx.

It didn’t take long for McKenney’s anxieties to be put to rest. In his coming out essay, which was published on Outsports in 2014, he says his group was immediately accepted.

“Polo Clubs everywhere welcomed us graciously and enthusiastically. It seemed to matter more that we loved polo than whom we loved,” he wrote.

McKenney has a couple of theories as to why the polo world is so inclusive. For starters, polo is an international game, meaning athletes carry their own unique perspectives and experiences.

“The majority of people who played polo tend to be well-traveled, so they tend to have a global perspective of the world,” he told me in 2021.

“It’s also a team sport. They don’t hear the word ‘gay’ so much as they hear that you play polo and they’re like, ‘Oh, you play polo, come and play with us.’”

Today, the Gay Polo League is way more than a sports organization: it’s a community. Next week’s tourney begins with a Polotini Wigstock party on April 5, in which guests are encouraged to don outrageous and flamboyant hair pieces.

There is also a tailgating competition, where the focus will be “less beer and burgers and more crafting elaborate and fanciful tableaus,” The Metro writes.

Gays really know how to class up a joint. What can we say?!

“The Gay Polo League has become an instrument of change and oftentimes introduces gay people into the lives and consciousness of people who have not known gay people first hand,” said McKenney.

It takes just a quick perusal through the GPL’s Instagram page to see the love on full display.

As one can tell, the GPL welcomes players of all ages. McKenney, who’s played in competitions in five continents, says the game intrinsically brings people together.

“The generations disappear, because the sport of polo is so powerful,” he told me. “That’s another reason why Polo is considered inclusive in a lot of ways. Everybody plays out there together.”

When he started the GPL back in 2006, fostering a safe space for all was his ultimate goal.

“I believe that the Gay Polo League marks a big difference in the changing gay community,” he wrote in his coming out story. “People are moving out of the mindset of focusing on activities, communities, and events based around the LGBTQ identities and looking for different experiences that prioritize common interests within the community, including sports.”

With thousands of people expected to arrive in Florida next week for the GPL’s big tourney, it’s fair to say McKenney has accomplished his mission. Let the games, and rainbow festivities, begin!

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