Summer trips to Cherry Grove and the Pines—the adjacent, queer-centric, and mega-charming hamlets on Fire Island—have long had a reputation for being downright magical for folks who are able to make the two-hourish journey from New York City. No cars! Deer wander up to you as you walk the wooden pathways home from the beach! Everyone is gay! And, on one Saturday in August each year, you can play in an LGBTQ+ volleyball tournament that specifically caters to women and non-binary people. Founded by Danielle Millet-Stanziale and Kristine Bungay in 2011, LezVolley is a way for teams with names like Gay Watch, Uhaullyball, Beach Cheeks, and I’d Hit That to play sports, hang with their friends, and even make some new ones in a place that feels truly welcoming and safe.
Despite a lot of exciting progress in the past decade, 2023 has been rough, broadly speaking, for queer and trans people in the US. We’ve seen relentless attempts to legislate trans people’s very existence; widespread book bans targeting titles with themes of LGBTQ+ acceptance; ongoing protests by far-right extremists at drag events; the Bud Light fiasco; the tragic killing of O’Shae Sibley, a Black gay man who dared to vogue in public; and a recent Department of Education decision that granted Baylor University a religious exemption to the Title IX provision that requires schools to protect queer and trans students from sexual harassment. (In my own Brooklyn neighborhood, I’ve been called anti-gay slurs and spat at when out and about with my girlfriend. Really cool stuff!!!)
That’s the backdrop this year’s LezVolley tournament took place against, and is a big part of why it’s such a special day for both players and spectators—it offers community, queer joy, heart-pumping competition, and exuberant recreation.
A nice detail about this year’s event: Two teams were entirely made up of single players who registered alone—basically allowing folks who didn’t have an existing team to play with to participate. According to LezVolley’s organizers, when this has happened in past years, the players often stay in touch and some even return the following year as a team again, this time as old friends, which is extremely cute. Also cute? The fact that someone proposed to their girlfriend at the tourney’s after-party at the Ice Palace.
SELF sent photographer Hunter Abrams to capture this year’s LezVolley tournament; below, you’ll find some of our favorite moments.