Photographer Da Ping Luo’s series, “Out for the Run,” might make you feel lazy: It’s a chronicle of Front Runners New York, an LGBT running club that’s been pounding the streets of New York City for almost 40 years.
Established in 1979, Front Runners is both a fitness group and a social club, offering training, races, and weekly “fun runs.” The group takes its name from Patricia Nell Warren’s novel The Front Runner, the tragic story of a gay Olympian who struggles for acceptance.
Fresh off display at New York’s Leslie-Lohman Museum, “Out for the Run” features more than 100 of Luo’s photos of contemporary Front Runners members, as well as archival images and memorabilia commemorating the club’s history.
“Photography plays such an important role in putting the club out there,” Luo tells NewNowNext. “We’re all trying to see a place where we belong.”
Luo joined Front Runners in 2009, seeking refuge from a marketing job that did little to help him get back in shape. But he was also looking to make new friends. “It’s super supportive. I’m not sure I finished the [first] work out,” he remembers, “but they waited for me.”
Front Runners was only a few years old when the AIDS epidemic hit the LGBT community, and the group was devastated. “A lot of Front Runners just disappeared,” explains Luo. “[The group] put together fundraisers and scholarships, and they paid for a lot of expenses. We now have awards named after [Front Runners who passed].”
Though Front Runners first marketed itself for gays and lesbians, it’s open to all: “It’s definitely trans-inclusive, says Luo. “I have a friend who, if it wasn’t for Front Runners, he would not be who he is today. We ran a fundraiser for his top surgery and he met his partner at Front Runners. We even have straight members. It’s a gay running club, but we do not exclude.”
Luo is working on an “Out for the Run” documentary, slated to debut at the Gay Games in Paris in 2018. He hopes to touch on the group’s history, but also why it’s still essential today. “Two years ago, when marriage equality was the thing, we thought we were moving forward,” he says. “Now with Trump in office, I feel we’re moving backward. I plan to do additional filming to [address that shift]. I want to ask, ’Where is the LGBT sports community going and what is Front Runners’ place?'”
View more images from “Out for the Run” here.
Additional reporting by Brandon Voss.