Written By: Michael Toutloff, Team JL Ambassador


The Chicago Rowing Union (CRU) was founded in 2005 by a group of 12 gay men, who wanted to compete at the 2006 Gay Games, being held in Chicago.

Nineteen years later, the team has expanded to an active membership of roughly 60 rowers from diverse backgrounds across the greater Chicago area. We offer learn to row, novice and competitive programs that compete across the US.

One of our annual traditions, every June, is to hold a Pride Row.


As one of only two all inclusive LGBTQ+ rowing teams in the United States, we recognize the importance of celebrating Pride but also take the day as an opportunity to invite our new novices to join a competitive team practice for a fun row. This allows new members to be boated with more experienced rowers and the entire team is able to relax and bond over an all-team cookout after the row.


This year, we asked several of our members the following question:
“Why is it important to you to row on an LGBTQ+ rowing team”


“Inclusivity. The fact that we are all together. Men, women, old, young. Straight gay. None of that matters. It’s a fantastic experience.” -Fiona Nolan
“I feel safe being myself here. I can talk about my wife with my friends and they just get it. They all get it.” -Merri Fulong
“Because, honestly it's more fun. Learning a new sport at 41 years old is not easy so it was great to come into this club and feel included and a part of the community.” -Dustin Mayes

“Because it creates visibility for events that we go to. At every regatta we go to, it’s great to see people come up and say it’s great to see the rainbows and they ask about us. It really brings people out and creates space to have those conversations.” -David Scheiber
“We get to represent the LGBTQ+ community in the larger rowing world that is underrepresented.” -David Gloss
“I have family members that are part of the LGBTQ community and it’s a great feeling for me to support it. I will always be an ally and it is a sense of family here.” -Denise McClannihan
“I love the sport of rowing and love that I can be a part of a team that is so diverse and inclusive.” -Allissa Mergler
“It’s important to me because it gives back to the community and gives people that are just coming out or trying to figure themselves out a place to go and feel comfortable and supported.” -Bluedog Azure
“Representation matters. I have rowed on other teams before and while the people were always nice, I never felt like I could be myself. I have had young gay rowers approach me at regattas and thank us for being out and proud.” -Michael Toutloff



If you are ever at a regatta, probably in the Midwest, and see the tent with all of the rainbow flags, stop by to say hello. There is always a seat in the boat for you with Chicago Rowing Union.

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