Happy LGBTQ+ History Month! Every October is celebrated as LGBTQ+ History Month to recognize and educate about people, places and events that have had an impact on the LGBTQ+ Community. All month we are going to honor some influential athletes, companies, organizations and sports figures who have made a contribution toward LGBTQ+ History.
The Gay Games (1982) were the brainchild of Dr. Tom Waddell and created to promote participation, inclusion and personal best by offering an event and safe space for the LGBT+ community to take part in sport. Better defined by it’s mission statement…
‘The purpose of The Federation of Gay Games, Inc. shall be to foster and augment the self-respect of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and all sexually-fluid or gender-variant individuals (LGBT+) throughout the world and to promote respect and understanding from others, primarily by organising and administering the international quadrennial sport and cultural event known as the “Gay Games.”’
Dr. Tom Waddell, being a decathlete who participated in the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games was inspired to create a more LGBT+ inclusive sporting event after taking part in and meeting the members of a gay and lesbian bowling league taking part in a local event. He sought to bring the Olympic experience to the LGBT+ community and to use sport to build awareness and education for the community around the world.
Waddell formed a committee called the San Francisco Arts and Athletics to organize the event, due to be held the week of August 28th, 1982 in San Francisco.
Originally titled the “Gay Olympic Games” shortly before the first Gay Games set to take part in 1982, the United States Olympic Committee sued Waddell over use of the word “Olympic” for Copyright Infringement. Despite other events having used the word without prior permission from the USOC, Waddell and the SFAA had lost the suit and was forced to change the name simply to Gay Games. Never the less, the Gay Games proceeded as scheduled. While the USOC had initially won the lawsuit, they proceeded to sue Waddell again for legal compensation but dropped the lawsuit just prior to Waddell’s death in 1987.
The event drew 1350 athletes from 10 different countries who competed in 17 different sports. Modeled after the Olympics it included opening and closing ceremonies held at the Cezar Stadium and included performances by Tina Turner and Jennifer Holliday.
While initially smaller than expected, the event no doubt shook the world and especially the city of San Francisco whom had long supported the event from it’s very beginnings. During the opening ceremonies Waddell remarked…
“Welcome to a dream that is now reality. Welcome to a celebration of freedom. These Gay Games, the first of their kind, are offered to Gay and enlightened people from all over the world. They are a departure from other events of this scope and magnitude in that the underlying philosophy is one of self-fulfillment and a spirit of friendship.”
This is a first; it is our beginning, and as such, we expect these Games to set a solid precedent for future Games that are exemplary for wholesome and healthy athletics, devoid of the notion that beating someone is the sole criterion for winning. Participation makes us all winners.”
The Gay Games are held every 4 years since 1982 and has grown considerably in size and scope since then. At the 1994 Gay Games held in New York City, the Gay Games officially surpassed the Olympic Games as the world’s largest, international multi-sport event.
During the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis, the United States had put a ban on anybody who was HIV+ from entering the country. Prior to the 1994 Gay Games in New York and the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta the Federation of the Gay Games and the United States Olympic Committee had put aside their previous history and worked together for a temporary lift of the HIV/AIDS travel ban so that athletes who were HIV+ could compete at both events. The FGG again had a temporary lift of the ban in 2006 for the Chicago Gay Games.
Several Olympic and professional athletes have taken part in the Gay Games in several ways, most notably Greg Louganis officially came “out” for the first time at the 1994 Gay Games. He recorded a video to open the games and declaring…
“Welcome to the Gay Games, it’s great to be out and proud.”
Other athletes that have taken part include Matthew Mitcham (2010 Games) and Blake Skjellerup (2014 Games).
The Gay Games have continued to grow and expand, to offer a place for LGBT+ athletes around the world to come and participate in an event free from discrimination. The most recent Gay Games took place in 2018 in Paris and the next Gay Games will take place in 2022 in Hong Kong
Photo by Big Blue Ocean, San Francisco, California via Wikimedia Commons