By David “Dirk” Smith, M.Sc., CSCS, SDL

If you’ve been following the development of Gay Games 11 since the previous edition, Paris 2018, you know it has not been without drama! Originally planned to be hosted in Hong Kong in 2022, the 11th edition of the Gay Games was set to be the first time the largest quadrennial LGBTQ+ multi-sport event would be held in Asia.

In fact, the whole purpose of hosting the Gay Games in Hong Kong was to help support the development and emergence of LGBTQ+ sports throughout Asia and the Pacific Islands. Throwing back through Gay Games history in how the event helped inspire and support the development of the LGBTQ+ sports community throughout North America, Europe, and Australia. We know that LGBTQ+ sports events, organizations, events, and communities have a lot of power in building inclusion and diversity, advocating for equality and serve as a platform toward greater social change and social justice. Thus, the 2022 Gay Games in Hong Kong was poised to do just that, including having the largest ever representation athletes from Asian countries at Gay Games Paris 2018.

Unfortunately, the pandemic happened, as did civil unrest in Hong Kong and many other events that put a lot of doubt and uncertainty as to whether the 2022 Gay Games in Hong Kong would even take place. This put the Federation of the Gay Games (FGG) in quite the precarious position. Should they cancel the event? Postpone it? Pull the bid and reassign it? How will this affect future Gay Games? So many questions. It also is not without precedent stemming from the infamous drama in the mid 2000s when the Federation of Gay Games and the original 2006 host, Montreal had a splitting disagreement. This led to the 2006 Gay Games being reassigned to Chicago, while Montreal continued their event as a rebranded “World Outgames”. The World Outgames thereafter became a competing LGBTQ+ quadrennial event trying to undermine the overall legacy and mission the Gay Games. It was a drama that nobody wanted to risk repeating again. But, even further in that precedent invoked memories of the dramatic climax and downfall of the World Outgames as a brand and event when it became the Fyre Festival of the LGBTQ+ sports community. In 2017, the World Outgames, despite selling itself as a large, upscale, inclusive, and historical LGBTQ+ sports event, was nothing more than a grifting of the ol’ pink dollar. Leaving 2000 athletes in Miami with unpaid hotel rooms, cancelled sports events, no actual organizational competency whatsoever and a host committee/ parent organization board, “GLISA” taking the money and high tailing out of Miami faster than cocaine smugglers in a power boat.

Needless to say, the FGG needed to ensure that somehow, in some way, Gay Games 11 would still take place. Leading to a dual hosting of the event by both Hong Kong and the runner up bid, Guadalajara to continue to advance the mission of the Gay Games and development of LGBTQ+ sports in both Asia, and now in Central/South America as well. It was also delayed to 2023 to ensure that the pandemic would be behind us at that point. This created a more daunting challenging of hosting two Gay Games, at the same time, in two places on opposite ends of the planet. But, with a lot of hard work from passionate volunteers on every level, somehow, in some way, it all came together.

I am writing this article on Day 3 of the Gay Games, sitting in my hotel room at Guadalajara after a very busy day of riding a bus full of cheerleaders (again). Having connected with so many of my Gay Games, swimming, and Pride Cheerleading Association friends and fam from the moment I stepped off the plane. We had a very memorable opening ceremony in GDL, and based on the streaming from Hong Kong, there opening ceremony was equally as fabulous. Watching the parade of athletes and seeing the pure energy and excitement of the athletes coming into the opening ceremony. They are ELATED to be here at this event, celebrating the best of who they are and taking the opportunity to be their authentic selves. The energy and enthusiasm have been absolutely remarkable and contagious!

It is so important that, despite the difficulties, challenges, and drama faced, that the powers that be persisted in ensuring that Gay Games 11 would still take place. Even if that meant adapting the Gay Games format and model to fit the needs of our current events, because those who are most willing to adapt are the ones who not just survive, they thrive. Our community needed this Gay Games to take place, more than ever. To experience the positive energy, excitement, passion, love, power and so many more feelings that come from being part of an event greater than yourself, having memorable experiences and discovering what you’re truly capable of. After the pandemic, economic uncertainties, rise of anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment and violence; our community needed this kind of positive energy more than ever.

After the collapse of the World Outgames in 2017, I lost my own faith in the LGBTQ+ sports community and I didn’t want to be part of something like what Outgames had come to represent. In those six years since, it has been a lot of ups and downs throughout life, for all of us. I never really felt like I could (or even wanted to) be a part of this kind of event ever again. In the last two years, seeing how the LGBTQ+ sports community came together post-pandemic has reminded us of and especially myself, why these events exist in the first place. What is the purpose and mission of “Gay Games”. Today there are thousands of LGBTQ+ sports clubs and organizations all over the world, who host thousands of sports events centered around building diversity, inclusion, and equity/equality in sport. All of that is rooted in the basic foundation of the Gay Games and what is has represented all along. While it is only day 3, I have already been reminded of the power and raw emotion of what the Gay Games represents. Athletes discovering the best of who they are and expressing that so authentically in every way, there is truly no other experience quite like it.


Photo Credit: David “Dirk” Smith