Gay Games Celebrates 30 Years of Sports and Equality
The Federation of Gay Games marked its 30th anniversary in West Hollywood with a weekend-long celebration that included sports exhibitions, a brunch and an awards ceremony honoring those who have helped LGBT athletes achieve equality. In addition to athletes, supporters and community members, the West Hollywood City Council was in attendance, with Mayor Jeffrey Prang presenting them with a commendation.
"There is no better place that combines professional, collegiate, scholastic and community sports in a way that they do," said Officer of Ceremonies Shamey Cramer, who organized the event and called it a resounding success. "Our mission is to use sports and culture to address the issues of homophobia all around the globe."
Every four years since 1982, the Gay Games has celebrated sports in the LGBT community, which is often neglected by professional and mainstream groups involved with physical competition. Recent successes include the Pride House during the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
"This past summer, we were part of a consortium of about seven groups that hosted Pride House, held during the second week of Olympics," Cramer explained.
While it was open, several closeted athletes proudly came out to the world press by visiting the location. Ji Wallace, a Gay Games ambassador, took the time to come out as HIV-positive.
"We couldn't have a better ambassador, an international role model for the benefit of sports for those with compromised immune systems," said Cramer, who is also open about his HIV-positive status.
At the awards ceremony for the 30th anniversary, Cyd Zeigler, co-founder of OutSports.com, received the Legacy Award for Media. Cramer said that Zeigler was given the award for his barefaced approach to LGBT sports journalism. Around 2000, no reporters were talking about LGBT athletes, Zeigler explained, so he, along with Jim Buzinski, founded OutSports.com.
"It’s a pretty special event," Zeigler said of the Gay Games. "It has the most number of participants in any sporting event in the world. And to see all those LGBT athletes and straight allies; I think the reason it’s lasted is that it’s just so special."
Commenting on how journalists handle LGBT athletes and homophobia, Zeigler stressed, that he would like to see more reporters asking athletes how they feel about this issue.
There are a few reasons why they’re not doing it now, he explained. First, there’s a lack of desire to ask the hard questions. When athletes are confronted with personal or aggressive questions they tend to avoid direct responses. Second, many sports journalists believe that this issue isn’t related to sports.
"You better be ready to write about this issue," Zeigler advises sports journalists, noting that more and more athletes are coming out, and allies are voicing their concerns about teammates being attacked verbally. "Whether you like it or not, you need to write about these issues."
The Gay Games Have an International Impact
Legacy Award recipient Zeigler said that the games have had a powerful influence, "especially when we come into rural America and Eastern Europe and South America and Africa. And so, while the event is a colorful piece of what we do, the real power comes from reaching into places that don’t know what the gay organizations are."
One example is highlighted by Eric Vidal Martinez, who received a Legacy Award for Social Justice. Over the past few years, he has triumphed in shedding light on the horrors LGBT individuals living in Honduras. According to Cramer, people are attacked on a regular basis, some such incidents resulting in death.
Martinez is running for the National Congress in Honduras as an openly gay candidate. He was chosen to step into the role after his colleague was killed last May in a hate crime.
Once Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heard about Martinez’s efforts, the State Department granted him a 10-year tourist visa. Most people can’t get travel documents allowing them in to stay in American for more than three months, so the gesture is astounding. Still, Martinez faces danger when he goes back to Honduras.
"One of the ways we can ensure his safety is by having him photographed with American politicians," said Cramer.
Cambridge Gay and Lesbian Sports Foundation Praises Gay Games
The Gay and Lesbian Sports Foundation (GLSF), based in Cambridge, also had high praise for the games.
"The anniversary of the Gay Games is momentous because over the years it has inspired the entire LGBT athletics movement, not only from a sports and athletic standpoint, but also culturally, socially, and from an intellectual capital standpoint," said GLSF Founder Mac Chinsomboon.
"They have encouraged the LGBT community to come together to play sports, but also helped cultivate an environment in sports in which athletes are accepted and respected without regard to their sexual orientation," said Chinsomboon, adding, "and in the process, help to create positive role models for society at large. Happy 30th!"
He mentioned the Head of the Charles regatta as an example of how the Gay Games extends far beyond its own quadrennial event.
"I met many LGBT rowers from around the world competing, including a boat that won a gold medal in one of the men’s races," he said. "Similarly, I witnessed the the annual sponsorship of a booth by the Gay & Lesbian Rowing Federation in the regatta’s main tent, all of which would not have been possible, if not for the inspired LGBT movement of the Gay Games."
Athletes, Take Your Mark
The 9th annual Gay Games will take place in 2014 at venues in Cleveland and Akron, Ohio. Despite its unusual location, Federation Board member Cramer says it’s convenient for two reasons.
Cleveland is centrally located to about 60 percent of the North American population, basically about a half-day drive. In addition, Ohio is one of "the most sports-crazy states in America," said Cramer. The types of outreach opportunities are immense, he explained Cramer.
"For high schoolers that don’t have gay-straight alliances, the kids who are just coming out in West Virginia, they’ll see the Games in the local media and the impact is very powerful. It gets better, starting now," said Cramer.
Delegates from Paris, which is hoping to win the bid for the 2018 games, also attended the celebration. The decision for the 10th Gay Games will be made in 2013 at the Cleveland site, one year before the 9th Gay Games.
For more info, visit gaygames.org/