BY MYRA LAVENUE
We live in a time when lesbians still feel the need to be closeted just to make a sports team, and when NCAA coaches resign after allegations of harassing their lesbian players. Homophobia in sports is still quite prevalent, but not all women are willing to hide who they are just to play the sport they love.
Every Labor Day Weekend since 1991, a lesbian soccer tournament brings together women who love women and soccer. It’s called the Festival of the Babes, or FOB for short, and it’s publicized primarily by word of mouth. Imagine a gathering of 300 women who play soccer by day, dance together at night, and through it all, celebrate each other and FOBly sportsmanship. “We thought up FOB as a tournament that would welcome and celebrate the participation of lesbians in the soccer community. It was about challenging homophobia in sports, and creating an environment in which lesbians could be comfortable expressing themselves,” says Alexa Wilkie, one of the founders of FOB.
FOB began in 1991 after a San Francisco lesbian soccer team, the Follies, attended the 1990 Gay Games in Vancouver, Canada, and reveled in the gathering of gay athletes. In the spring of 1991, the Follies played in a soccer tournament at the gay-and-lesbian Seattle Sports Festival. The founding organizing committee, known as the FOB Squad, left that event knowing they could put on their own tournament, and do an even better job. With very little time to prepare, they chipped in $100 apiece to cover costs and pulled together an eight-team tournament in San Francisco that Labor Day weekend. They thought of ways to make Festival of the Babes fun—less focused on competition than other soccer tournaments. There were special “strip soccer” rules, costumed players, and goofy names for the tournament divisions. Keeping with the Gay Games program, they included an Opening Ceremony to kick off the tournament.
FOB has come a long way from that humble inaugural event, which is lovingly described by participant Julie Johnson as her “first lesbian Christmas.” After years of being the host city, San Francisco passed the ball to Vancouver, Canada. FOB has since also been held in Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington. Founder Millie Supple reflects, “It grew year by year into what it is now—almost a Halloween/Gay Pride/Burning woMan, soccer event that now has to turn teams away.”
The nightly FOB parties are usually held in nightclubs around the host city, and feature entertainment, such as skits, go-go dancers, and drag king performances. Countless numbers of couples have met at these parties and the atmosphere is much more intimate than a Gay Pride party filled with numerous strangers. The parties from FOB 13 still resonate with bar owners in Portland years later: bartenders were swarmed, certain liquor items ran out, and the Saturday-night venue was packed. The impact of 300 fun-seeking soccer players cannot be described, only experienced.
Attending her first FOB in 2006, Megan McNeal says, “FOB is a safe and special event for women who love women to come, play soccer, and get as outrageous as they want!”
Millie Supple is amazed that “what we started 19 years ago is still going strong, and can still bring so many lesbians from all walks of life together. It is a true spectacle…and I hope to hell it outlasts me!”
This year’s 24-team festival will be hosted in San Francisco, California, from September 4 through September 6. Interested? Come and play, watch, dance, or volunteer at FOB. Visit www.festivalofthebabes.com to find out more and get your FOB on.
By night, Myra is a writer of lesbian erotica and humor (often one and the same). She writes for Curve Magazine, has been published in four anthologies by Alyson Publications, and wrote for TechnoDyke.com. By day, she’s a technical writer for the animation company LAIKA. Myra lives in Portland, Oregon, with her wife and two daughters. Read her writing in:
Anthologies: Early Embraces, Lip Service, Awakening the Virgin, Dykes with Baggage
Magazines: Portland Magazine, Curve Magazine