Finding A Lesbiqueer Sports Utopia On Fire Island

This August, 30 queer teams will spike, bump, and ace their way through one epic weekend of LezVolley.

One summer evening, Danielle Stanziale was enjoying frozen cosmos with friends at a bar in Cherry Grove, Fire Island, the beachy enclave that has served as a summer escape for queer women from New York for over 50 years now. They were discussing how much they missed a lesbian dodgeball league that recently disbanded on the island. Stanziale especially felt its absence—not because she was a dodgeball fan, but because of the community the team fostered. She asked her friends for suggestions on other fun and sexy sports for queer women.

The answer came swiftly and in unison: “Volleyball!”

As a veteran promoter in the queer event space, Stanziale thought a lesbian volleyball tournament on Fire Island was a great idea. So, she teamed up with co-organizer Kristine Bungay to host the firstever LezVolley in June 2011. The event started small. Eight teams spiked, bumped, and volleyed their way through tournament brackets while a handful of supporters braved unexpected hurricane weather to cheer them on. Afterward, players and spectators celebrated together.

Participants enthusiastically advocated for a repeat. LezVolley returned the following year, this time to sunny skies in August. The event has steadily grown ever since. People from the tri-state area and beyond flock to experience LezVolley’s unique blend of sports, socializing, fun in the sun, and queer nightlife. It’s a cocktail as delicious as those served by Cherry Grove’s boardwalk restaurants and enjoyed al fresco while scores of queer women saunter past in board shorts and bikinis, slathered in sunscreen and smiles. Today, the LezVolley tournament is billed by organizers as “the most popular LGBTQ+ event for women and nonbinary people on Fire Island—especially within the lesbian community.”


This year promises to be LezVolley’s best version yet. Thirty teams will play in the Saturday tournament. Supporters can watch from the sidelines, dance to the beats of a beach DJ, or explore Cherry Grove’s charming boardwalk. Afterward, volleyballers and beachgoers will descend upon the after-party at the newly renovated Ice Palace 23, the new, improved reimagining of the famed and, say owners, “the longest” continually running LGBTQAI+ nightclub in the world,” which features a brand-new music system. Revelers can dance the night away there or at Cherry’s on the Bay. The next day, a poolside drag show concludes the official itinerary, although some will choose to stay and soak up the last of the weekend’s magic.

Stanziale attributes much of LezVolley’s success to its supporters. “Social media wasn’t doing it,” she tells GO. “It was word of mouth.”

But social media did help with the event’s post-pandemic comeback. In 2021, Stanziale and her wife created a TikTok that went viral. The video garnered over a million views and helped anchor LezVolley’s position as the lesbian event of the summer.

“I can only compare it to an NYC Pride event,” says Natalie Wizel, who has played at LezVolley since 2016. “Anything that represents community, especially queer community, is super important.”

Photo by Liz Arocena

For Wizel, the event brings together two of her favorite activities: sports and socializing. She’s not alone in feeling this way. Historically, teams could register for LezVolley up to the last minute. But last year registration filled up within the first couple of days. This year, it closed within 24 hours.

“A lot of people circle it on their calendars as a date not to miss,” says Wizel.

LezVolley is making moves to accommodate its growing popularity. In April, they hosted an indoor beach volleyball tournament, complete with sand on the floors and entertainment for non-players. Stanziale hopes to create a second LezVolley event in the New York City region. Someday, she may even expand to other parts of the country. But, for now, she’s going slow.

“[If the event gets] too big, you lose the personal touch,” she says.

Despite LezVolley’s growth, one thing remains the same: the spirit of its participants.

“Whether it’s 50 people or 5,000, the support is the same,” Stanziale adds. “The excitement of something new and special for the community—that energy is the same. It just grows with the amount of people.”

If you’re headed to LezVolley for the first time this year, Stanziale has some advice. Firstly, pay attention to directions. Cherry Grove, Fire Island, isn’t exactly easy to reach via mass transit, although savvy New Yorkers learn how to make the pilgrimage. When you finally arrive at the Cherry Grove docks, an embassy-sized Pride flag will greet you, fluttering in the wind, while the weight of New York City slowly slides off your shoulders like a heavy backpack.

Once you arrive, explore the community. There’s more to LezVolley than the beach and bars.

In fact, “Don’t act like you’re in a bar in NYC,” cautions Stanziale. “It’s nothing like that. There’s no cliques. It’s so open, so welcoming. Everyone says hello. If you walk by someone, you know that person is in your community, so say ‘Hello’ back.”

As Wizel, the longtime player, puts it, being at LezVolley really “feels like coming home.”

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