The only LGBTQ polo organization in the world returns to Wellington this weekend for its annual tournament, bringing family-friendly fun and excitement and a major fundraiser to the National Polo Center.
The 2023 LEXUS International Gay Polo Tournament begins Thursday and wraps up Sunday, with the highlight tournament and tailgate competition on Saturday.
The event is a platform for the league to raise money for nonprofits that serve the LGBTQ community, said Gay Polo League founder Chip McKenney. The tournament benefits the onePULSE Foundation, launched in the wake of the deadly 2016 mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Founded by Pulse’s owner, the foundation funds 49 scholarships in honor of the 49 people killed in the attack, in addition to covering the costs of the memorial and community education programs.
“Last year we raised $135,000 for them,” McKenney said. “I’m hoping we can more than double that this year.”
The event is “100% inclusive,” McKenney said.
“We welcome everybody to our event,” he said. “You can bring your grandmother, you can bring your Republican grandfather, you can bring everybody.”
Players are flying in from seven countries to compete in Saturday’s tournament, he said, adding, “It’s our best group of polo players to date.”
The itinerary begins with the GPL Polo Players Welcome Reception on Thursday. A pre-event favorite takes place Friday at the National Polo Center: GPL Polotini Wigstock, a cocktail reception with special guests, cocktails and everyone encouraged to wear wigs.
The 16 world-class polo players will compete on the National Polo Center’s Isla Carroll West Field during the Senator’s Cup and the Founders Cup beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday. Tailgaters will compete for prizes including Best in Show, Best Cuisine, Best Cocktail, Best Single Tailgate and Best Multiple Tailgate, with past winning themes including “Steel Magnolias,” “Gray Gardens,” “Brunch at Tiffany’s” and “Wizard of Oz.”
“I think it gets better and better, not just bigger and bigger,” McKenney said of the event. “We’re really keen on building a unique experience, both in the LGBT space and beyond, and I think it’s massively important.”
Highlighting that importance: The Palm Beach County Sports Commission last year awarded the Gay Polo League with the Champion of Equity and Diversity in Sports award.
McKenney noted the significance of the award, in part because it was awarded by a committee that is outside the LGBTQ community. “That meant a lot,” he said. “We really feel like we’re game changers.”
McKenney, a lifelong equestrian, founded the Gay Polo League while looking for fellowship after moving to California for law school. After years in show jumping, he decided to leave the sport and soon felt disconnected from the equestrian community.
“Once I stopped show jumping, my social life radically dropped,” McKenney said.
After joining some social groups in Los Angeles, a friend suggested McKenney take a polo lesson. He drove to a school in Santa Barbara. Before the end of the lesson, he know: “This is a perfect sport for gay people,” he said. “It’s traditional. It’s global. It’s a team sport. It’s elegant.”
Soon he was running a ragtag group of participants, and the Gay Polo League was born.
“Why a Gay Polo League? Why not a Gay Polo League?” McKenney said. “Out mission is really to elevate LGBT athletes within the sport of polo.”
The visibility is empowering, an important aspect of raising awareness of LGBTQ athletes within mainstream sports, McKenney said.
The league has been invited to play all over the world, McKenney said, with upcoming tournaments in St. Tropez, France; London, England; and Luxembourg.
“It makes me feel very proud, and it makes me feel hopeful,” he said. “It also makes me feel appreciative, because even though I’m the face of the league and the event, so many people have touched this event, and everybody who comes and supports it all play a part in making this a really top-notch event.”
For more information or to buy tickets for Saturday’s event, go to www.gaypolo.com.
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