For some, kickball induces a sense of grade school gym class nostalgia, but for Jonathan Melton, it became a way to bring Raleigh’s LGBTQ and allied communities together for some wholesome fun.
Washington, D.C. residents Martin Espinoza and Mark Gustafson started the Stonewall Kickball League in 2010, creating a safe space for anyone to come out and play sports while raising money for local organizations. Stonewall Sports has since expanded to a national nonprofit sports organization with locations in 17 cities offering more than a dozen different sports leagues.
Melton, who introduced Stonewall to Raleigh in 2013, has since stepped down from leading the group but is still involved with local sports and service projects. He spoke with Raleigh Magazine about what he’s learned and how the city’s LGBTQ and allied communities can continue to come together.
How has Stonewall benefited LGBTQ and allied communities in Raleigh?
It’s built a true, cohesive community. Now, when you go out to, say, a bar or a club, you tend to know everybody. It’s a great way for people who move here from other cities to get plugged in a lot quicker. Whereas in the past if you moved to a city, it was easy to feel like an outsider. Now, there’s a way to easily make friends. It’s an organization where anyone is welcome, a judgement-free safe place to socialize and play.
How does Stonewall Sports give back?
When I was running the league, we did service projects with the Tammy Lynn Center, donated money to the Raleigh Rescue Mission and the Interfaith Food Shuttle. Obviously the LGBT Center of Raleigh is the primary fiscal sponsor and recipient of proceeds. They’ve since started doing stuff with Habitat for Humanity, too.
How has Stonewall evolved?
Before, it was a lot of leagues trying to run independently, all carrying the same name. Now, there’s an actual national organization and a national structure, which has helped streamline growth. There are more people running it, too; when we started, it was just me and a couple of friends. Now, there’s an entire structure of board members, a board of directors for each sport and volunteers.
You’ve seen membership growth recently. Why do you think that is?
Everyone wants to feel like they belong. The sense of community is probably the biggest pull. There’s also the focus on service and philanthropy. Once you graduate high school and college, there are fewer opportunities to get involved in service projects. We offer that.
What have you personally gained from being a part of Stonewall?
When I started it, I really didn’t know it was going to become what it’s become. I had to learn how to run an organization that was growing by leaps and bounds. It gave me an entire sense of community, new friends and a sense of pride and accomplishment. I personally got so much from this organization that I could never give back what I took from it.
How has Stonewall connected the LGBTQ community internally and to allies?
Within the LGBTQ community, I feel like we all know each other a lot better. It feels like a community now, whereas before, it felt like different groups of people who knew each other but if you didn’t have an occasion to cross paths, you never would. As far as allied players, as an LGBTQ community you need strong allies to support you as you support them. It has helped bridge together people from different walks of life in a way that probably wouldn’t have happened as quickly without it.