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The Steel City Inclusive Softball Association joined the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance in late August. © Submitted by Ashley Letts The Steel City Inclusive Softball Association joined the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance in late August.

An LGBTQ-friendly softball league in Hamilton has joined the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance (NAGAAA), becoming the only Hamilton sports league and just the third in Canada to be part of the alliance.

Jeff Lindstrom, commissioner of the Steel City Inclusive Softball Association (SCISA), said SCISA joined the NAGAAA in late August.

"One thing our community particularly is in need of is stability and that continuing safe space," he told CBC Hamilton.

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"What this process signalled for a lot of people was … this isn't something we want to see start with a bang and fizzle out fast. We want this to be a staple in the Hamilton community."

NAGAAA began in 1977 as an international sports organization that offers a space for the LGBTQ community to play softball, according to its website.

It has at least 48 cities in its alliance, including Toronto and Vancouver. New ones like Hamilton haven't been added online yet.

SCISA, meanwhile, was born in Hamilton in 2019.

"We acknowledge that it doesn't always feel like the city we love, loves us back. Involvement with our league will provide an outlet for players and local businesses to show that the future of Hamilton is compassionate and progressive," reads the SCISA website.

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"The love that lives here is stronger than hate."

Hamilton has wrestled with a reputation for hate — Statistics Canada data indicates the city had the country's highest per-capita rate of hate crimes in 2019, 2018, 2016 and 2014.

The city received national attention after violence erupted at its 2019 Pride festival in Gage Park and the police service was scrutinized for its response to the melee. Both Mayor Fred Eisenberger and then police Chief Eric Girt apologized after an independent review found the police response to be inadequate.

The city also saw a record number of hate crimes reported to police in 2021 and the LGBTQ community was among the most targeted groups.

Inclusive league 'needed' in city

Lindstrom said the founding members of SCISA all played in other LGBTQ organizations in North America and all moved to Hamilton around the same time.

They connected through friends in the softball community, he said, and decided to create the league.

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"A lot of that came from really feeling that this is something the Hamilton area really needed," he said.

"There aren't a lot of safe spaces for the 2SLGBTQIA+ population. There weren't many opportunities for us to all gather."

While SCISA was born in 2019, its first season didn't start until 2021 because of the pandemic.

There are 196 players and 20 to 25 players on a wait list, Lindstrom said.

Tina Handley, who has been playing with the league since 2021, said it's been "life-changing."

"I've made so many more friends, probably about four or five very close friends that I can see being lifetime friends."

Impact on future generations

Lindstrom and others from SCISA had to travel to Dallas to deliver a presentation and apply to join NAGAAA.

"It was a chance to tell our story on an international stage," Lindstrom told CBC Hamilton.

"It connects us to that larger community of 17,000 plus players across 51 different cities across North America."

Handley said joining NAGAAA will also offer more competition for those who want it.

Lindstrom said players will finish this year's final regular season games next week and then play in a tournament on Sept. 24 to end the season.

He said he hopes it will be one of many, like the Cabbagetown Group Softball League in Toronto, which has been operating since 1975.

"They existed and started in times when it wasn't safe to call yourself a gay league," Lindstrom said.

"Seeing those members who have been playing since then … you see what a lifetime of those relationships does for somebody and it connects you to a network much bigger."

Handley said she believes the league will have an impact on future generations.

"I can only hope … some of these younger children continue to come out to the park and eventually join as well."

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