A lesbian in North Carolina has created what is thought to be the state’s first LGBT dragon boat racing team in response to legislation that bans equal marriage in the state.

Denise Bauer, a resident of Cornelius, became an avid dragon boater after moving to the lakeside town four years ago and has competed and coached in several local teams.

Dragon boats are long, canoe-like boats manned by teams of 22, comprised of 20 paddlers, a coxswain and a drummer. Racing the boats has been a sport and festival tradition in China for centuries, and is now becoming widespread in the US.

“It’s super-exciting. I have been hooked since I stepped in the boat,” Ms Bauer told the Charlotte Observer.

She was inspired to start her own team of LGBT racers when North Carolina passed Amendment One in May 2012. The amendment defined marriage as solely between a man and a woman and effectively sent the message that same-sex couples in the state would not receive any legal recognition in the near future.

With the aim of changing people’s minds about LGBT people she formed the One World Dragon Boat team.

“It’s not just about a team, but breaking down the boundaries of bigotry and discrimination,” said Ms Bauer. “It’s hard to hate people when you know who they are.”

She added, “I believe hearts and minds can be changed one person at a time.”

The One World team is hoping to compete at the Charlotte Asian Festival in May, a local celebration that hosts one of the largest dragon boat races in the state.