While the excitement of the equestrian season in Wellington is always a joyful time in the community, the annual Lexus International Gay Polo Tournament, presented by Douglas Elliman Real Estate, (GPL) really ramps up the fun! This year will be no exception when the event returns to the International Polo Club Palm Beach from April 7 through April 10.
The multi-day event brings together an international slate of LGBTQ athletes and allies, along with some of the top luxury brands from around the world for festivities that celebrate inclusion and awareness.
Founder Chip McKenney, a passionate equestrian, desired to create a safe place and unique opportunity for LGBTQ+ athletes interested in the sport of polo. Unsure of how it would be received in the polo community, he took a leap of faith and created the Gay Polo League in 2006. In 2010, he established the International Gay Polo Tournament.
“It was nerve-wracking and exciting at the same time,” McKenney said. “It truly was unlike anything I had ever done, yet I knew I could not be the only gay person wanting a place to enjoy sports without feeling like I did not belong. Too often in the LGBTQ+ community, including myself, there is a fear of team sports and, therefore, we do not pursue them.”
McKenney’s vision for the league and the tournament has proven successful. Today, GPL has members in 14 countries. This year, the 16 polo players competing represent six countries — Argentina, Brazil, France, the Netherlands, Peru and the United States.
McKenney believes it is the inclusiveness that makes this tournament not only stand out, but a success. “We are identified as a gay tournament, yet we are inclusive of others who wish to participate and support our events,” he said. “For us, diversity and inclusion are exciting and important. The tournament is for all to participate. We are one human race, and that should matter more than anything.”
He believes that part of the wide acceptance of the GPL is the well-traveled audience and participants who care more about a desire to play than anything else. It is what participants are most looking forward to.
Beginning with the GPL Stick & Ball practice and VIP Sponsor Reception sponsored by RBC Wealth Management, by invitation only, on Thursday, April 7, and the GPL Senator Cup Preliminary Matches, the fun will really begin during the Baccarat presents the GPL Polotini Wigstock!, a charity fundraiser on the evening of Friday, April 8.
New this year, the charity beneficiary of Polotini is the onePULSE Foundation, which was born out of the tragic events at the Pulse nightclub in June 2016. The foundation’s mission is to create and support a national memorial that opens hearts, a museum that opens minds, educational programs that open eyes and scholarships that open doors.
“The events that happened that night should live forever in the minds and hearts of our country,” McKenney said. “In the conversations our team has had with onePULSE founder Barbara Poma, we relive the horror and pain of that fateful night. And, while our world is certainly moving forward, we must never forget and continue to push for equality and acceptance. We know the work that the foundation is doing directly aligns with the work we are doing. We have the highest of hopes that empathy and bravery will grow, while inspiring others to be accepting, inclusive and celebrate the strengths that diversity brings to every aspect of our life.”
Saturday, April 9 will be the main event during the GPL Senator Cup Finals, GPL Founder’s Cup Finals and GPL Tailgate Competition, sponsored by First Republic Bank. The polo field will be filled with sights of majestic ponies complemented by fierce competition and laughter from the participants on and off the fields. The fans will enjoy the culminating match, featuring elite athletes from around the globe.
“Who doesn’t love the sideline action in these wild tailgates?” McKenney said. “I cannot wait to see what everyone who has been stuck at home over the last two years dreams up for the big re-entry into the world!”
Festivities will end at Sunday, April 10’s GPL Brunch when McKenney will officially announce his biggest news yet, that the GPL received the Palm Beach County Champion of Equity & Diversity in Sports Award at the Palm Beach County Sports Hall of Fame Awards Celebration.
The celebration will be held the week prior to the GPL event. The GPL was selected for inspiring and empowering individuals while promoting the sport of polo to provide equality, pride, inclusion and confidence for those who may face discrimination simply by identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
“This award is a formal recognition of the work we are doing. We strive and support understanding and acceptance of all,” McKenney said. “We are proud to receive this award and continue moving forward with our event’s focus remaining on the desire to increase visible LGBTQ athletes in the sporting world.”
Tickets are available now for the 2022 International Gay Polo Tournament and can be purchased, along with sponsorship packages and additional information, by visiting www.gaypolo.com.