Grand Marshal Todd Maria uses rugby as a vehicle for serving the LGBT community
For Todd Maria, being chosen as grand marshal of the 2016 Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade was a huge surprise, and an honor that has made him even more determined than before to contribute to his community.
Maria’s efforts in leading Dallas’ Lost Souls gay rugby team to a Challenger Cup championship at the international Bingham Cup competition this year helped cement his election as one of two grand marshals for the Pride parade. But he said recently he has been inspired by the work of others to contribute his own efforts to the community.
“My inspiration comes from an eclectic cumulation of the cultured minds and brilliant hearts of those around me in our community,” Maria said.
“I have watched Daniel Iwanski-Sanchez and the team of angels at Resource Center’s Food Pantry help others that may need a hand because of limited resources,” he said. “I’ve admired Richard Curtin [as Edna Jean Robinson] and Michael LaMasters for leveraging their talents as entertainers to motivate and inspire others to simply follow their dreams by being themselves.”
Maria started playing rugby about 15 years ago, and he founded the Lost Souls team in 2011, spending the last five years as both coach of and player for the team.
Even though it is a rough sport that, he admits, takes a toll on his body, it is also “a big part of who I am.” And this year, that dedication paid off when Maria and his team traveled to Nashville to compete in the 2016 Bingham Cup tournament, bringing home the Challenger Cup championship.
The Bingham Cup, held every two years, is the international gay rugby championship tournament, named after Mark Kendall Bingham, a college rugby player who was killed in the Sept. 11, 2001 crash of United Airlines Flight 93, and is known as one of the heroes aboard that plane who fought back against the hijackers and kept from crashing the plane into the Capitol. The Challenger Cup is the Division 3 championship trophy in Bingham Cup competition.
Although some might see the Lost Souls as just another sports team, Todd says it has always been about more than just playing a game.
“Lost Souls has always been about community,” he says. “We play hard, and we have a lot of fun. But we know we are bigger than just ourselves.”
Noting that the team has always contributed through toy drives at Christmas, school supply drives and food drives, Maria adds, “It has been wonderful to see our community involvement grow through the years, just as our level of play has grown.”
Maria, who describes himself as a nurse by trade, was born and grew up in Hawaii. His work took him first to Philadelphia — where he first got involved in rugby — before he eventually settled in Dallas. He went back to school, getting a master’s degree from the University of Texas at Arlington, and gave up the life of a traveling nurse to work as an administrator in a Plano hospital.
Here in Dallas, he met his partner, Caleb Hand, and the two of them have been together for seven years.
“I have lived in Dallas since 2005, and I love it here,” Maria says. “It’s the best city I have ever lived in, just amazing. I don’t think people who are from here really appreciate this city for it is — a unique environment filled with opportunity.”
Being nominated as grand marshal was “just overwhelming,” Maria says. And when they learned he had been chosen by the community vote, “Caleb and I both cried,” he adds. “I think I was more surprised by it, and Caleb was more proud. It was so wonderful to know what I had been working for had been recognized.”
But Maria is quick to add that winning public accolades has never been the real goal. “You don’t start a project — any project — just for the notoriety of it. You do it to do good things for your community,” he says. “Being recognized this way is just icing on the cake.”
Maria said that his coming out experience was “much like others, in that I was uncertain how those around me would hear and handle my truth.” But now that his truth is out there, he hopes to use it to make a lasting impact on the LGBT community.
“I want to leave a legacy of inclusion, compassion and empowerment — a legacy of generously giving back to our community,” Maria said. “Rugby has been a way to bring communities together by cultivating an environment where anyone can play a sport, no matter who you are. I want to be a part of continued change and acceptance that recognizes the measure of one’s humanity by the content of their character and their contributions to society, rather than solely based on who we love.”
Maria said he is “honored to be a part of this Pride celebration with Burke Burnett and our community leaders.
But remember, it’s not Pride if you are not proud of yourself, your friends, your family and your community. This Pride, we come together recognizing our solidarity through our pride. We shone a light on love and not on hate.
It’s this light that illuminates the best part of us.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2016.