Celebrating Gay PRIDE at Pin Chasers
Pin Chasers’ history with the LGBTQ community and with celebrating PRIDE month goes back longer than that of probably any other bowling, recreational or entertainment venue in Tampa.
“When people from Tampa’s gay community first came to us in the ’eighties and asked, ‘Can we have a league?’ former CEO Bill Morris said, ‘Absolutely.’ It was the first LGBTQ league in the city. Not all our customers were happy about it, but we made space for them,” said CEO Anthony Perrone. “We welcomed the Monday Mixed Classic League, a predominantly LGBTQ league, and the league bowls to this day.”
According to league member Ken Vasquez, Pin Chasers’ welcoming, people-friendly culture keeps the league coming back. “The Monday Mixed Classic League became the largest league in Pin Chasers and probably one of the largest in Tampa,” he said. “If you want return customers and you want support, you need to show that you can be open to all types of people.”
In the early 1990s, AIDS and HIV became very prominent news stories because of the deaths of celebrities like Freddie Mercury and Arthur Ashe.
“The general public was very concerned and freaking out and came to us saying, ‘We’re not going to bowl anymore,’” said Perrone. “Other leagues threatened to walk out if we didn’t do something.”
At that time, the epidemic was frightening. The disease was deadly, baffling and spreading fast.
“It looked a lot more horrific then than anyone today could ever imagine,” said Perrone. “But Bill Morris was steadfast and very respectful of the gay community and their group of league bowlers.”
At the time, because of a general lack of awareness and lack of knowledge about the ways the virus could be spread, Pin Chasers showed its solidarity for the LGBTQ community as well as its concern for other bowlers’ anxieties by keeping the league in the building and switching to disposable glassware and plates. The Monday Mixed Classic League has long contributed to the Tampa AIDS Network and other AIDS charities for AIDS and HIV research and to raise awareness.
Through the 1980s and 1990s, the other reality for the LGBTQ group at Pin Chasers was the sense of loss.
“The league had many members pass away, as did their entire community,” said Perrone. “There was a sadness that was part of their community unlike anything suffered by any other league we have ever had. They were faced with the pain of a deadly crisis that hit their community harder than the rest of society at the time in Tampa. We lost many members.”
“The environment was very different in the late ’eighties and ’nineties from how it is today. It was a very sensitive situation. Back then, there was a level of privacy as to who was here and who was in the league,” Perrone said.
“At the time, the Monday Mixed Classic League leaders requested that no one be allowed in the building, in terms of press and things like that. They did not want notoriety and were very protective of their members’ privacy and security,” he said.
“What’s different today, as we celebrate PRIDE month 2019 and the growth we’ve had as a community and as a business, is that there is greater acceptance and more openness,” said Perrone. “Bowling centers are a microcosm of society. What was happening in society started happening in bowling leagues, as well, where acceptance became more pervasive than fear and ignorance.”
Today, although the Monday Mixed Classic group still bowls as a league and is one of Pin Chasers’ most successful and longtime leagues, there also are many LGBTQ bowlers competing in other Pin Chasers’ leagues.
“They are a part of our league bowling community and a valued part of our customer base,” Perrone said.
“Times have changed so much, and we are happy to have always been part of inclusion and acceptance,” said Perrone. “We set an example. Taking care of everyone who walks through our doors has always been what we do; it’s a fundamental part of our culture and still is after 60 years.”
“We want to say, ‘Thank you!’ to the LGBT community,” said Perrone. “Thank you for your business, but most importantly, thank you for trusting us and for being a part of who we are.”