Talking sports with Jake Lenz

Sun. March 3, 2019 8:02 AM by Ross Forman

Co-Founder of HomeField Alliance – for LGBT professionals, allies in sports and entertainment

Jake Lenz has been playing gay sports in Chicago for four years, first starting with flag football through the Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association (CMSA), and he also has played tennis (singles and doubles) and dodgeball.

Gay sports have also become his profession, not just his passion.

"Frankly, I was surprised that leagues like these existed. I was so used to the heteronormative culture that surrounded rec sports while I was in college that I just assumed I would have a similar experience wherever I moved," after graduating," said Lenz, 26, who grew up in Ohio and has been living in Chicago for about five years, moving here eight days after graduating from Michigan State University in 2014.

"Having found a community of people like me, who could shed light on life as a twenty-something gay man in Chicago really helped to shape my experiences in those early years and find my place in Chicago.

"When I was new to the city, the LGBTQ+ sports leagues gave me a social outlet that gave me the opportunity to get to know people in a setting that wasn't a bar. At the same time, most of my early friends within the community came from playing in these leagues and many of those friendships still exist today. Also, having a competitive outlet is incredibly important and I always felt the LGBTQ+ leagues were a healthier, competitive environment than many of the other leagues I had been a part of in the past. "

Lenz' gay sport journey has included a flag football championship, which he labeled as his personal gay sports highlight. "We were an incredibly close team; it was awesome to see a group of guys come together and make each other better over the course of a couple months," he said.

"My other favorite (gay sports) story would have to be when I outran one of (the) trainers from the gym I was going to at the time, only to have a flag thrown for taunting him – in a friendly way, of course, when I yelled that it was his fault I outran him."

Lenz also is the president and a co-founder of HomeField Alliance, which aims to "foster networking and professional development opportunities for LGBTQ+ professionals and their allies working in the sports and entertainment industries," he said. The HomeField Alliance goal is "breaking down silos between organizations and existing as a form of employee resource group."

There are now about 30 members across the U.S. working with sports teams, venues, agencies, brands, and other sports-related organizations.

HomeField Alliance is a membership-based organization, focused on connecting our members with similar individuals within the industry. When HomeField members join, they receive discounted access to their events and access to other members.

"HomeField Alliance works with anyone or any organization who is an LGBTQ+ individual or ally within the sports and entertainment industry," Lenz said. "We are currently working on a corporate membership program and hope to begin working with those potential members on organization-wide benefits to help amplify inclusion and diversity within their current employees."

Chicago is home to two of the three founding board members of HFA, "so it was a natural fit for us, given our network here within the city and the fact that it's arguably the best sports city in the world," Lenz said. "We have around a fifth of our membership here, so Chicago is certainly at the heart of our activity as an organization, but we're also focused on providing the same attention to each city where our members exist.

"We want for HomeField to be the defacto LGBTQ+ affinity group for the entire sports and entertainment industry, making sure every LGBTQ+ individual has access to a network of like-minded individuals from whom they can both learn and grow."

HomeField Alliance spawned from Lenz' personal search for fellow LGBTQ+ professionals after seeing the work that Women in Sports and Events (WISE) had done to empower women in the industry. "We wanted to replicate that sense of community and provide access to LGBTQ+ mentorship and connections for individuals who might not otherwise find it," he said.

HomeField is looking to grow through word-of-mouth from members and via original content and thought leadership pieces on its blog, plus an increased number of localized events in cities where members live.

"Long-term, the vision is to be known as the resource for the LGBTQ+ community working within sports and entertainment," Lenz said. "By providing our membership with the resources to host their own events and build membership within their city, we hope that we can create a grass-roots change around inclusion across the industry."

Lenz, for the past two years, has been on the board for CMSA flag football, focused on fundraising through corporate sponsors. He also for the past three years has been on the Midwest Regional Board for the You Can Play Project, which is focused on ending homophobia in sport.

"I think sports are an incredible vehicle to work together as a community to solve the challenges that we face, but we have to be willing to welcome allies to the table as a part of the conversation," Lenz said. "By educating, empowering and enabling individuals to lead each other higher, we can make an impact in our local sports communities, but also all the way up to the highest echelons of competition."

Fields of Play with ...Jake Lenz

Favorite Pro Athlete: Serena Williams

One Pro Athlete You'd Like To Meet: Billie Jean King

One Sporting Event You'd Like To Attend: Wimbledon

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