Sports  Out of the closet and onto the field

The Gay Games are changing attitudes around the world

ANTIGONISH, N.S. (CUP – The Xaverian Weekly | St. Francs Xavier University) — While any athlete knows that early-morning practices, gruelling workouts, and time-consuming competitions can at times be challenging, some may not consider the significant role that sexual orientation can play in sport.

For many in the gay, lesbian, and transgender community, athletic participation and openness about sexual orientation are mutually exclusive.

However, since Tom Waddell founded the Gay Games in 1982, those notions have been altered – in many ways for the better.

Charlene Weaving, human kinetics professor at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., says the Gay Games are a momentous challenge to homophobia in sport.

“It provides an opportunity for open homosexuals to participate in sport at an elite level at a major international competition, and not have to face any type of homophobia,” Weaving said.

Since the inaugural 1982 event in San Francisco, the Gay Games have been changing attitudes and giving power to thousands of people through the positive effects of sport and competition.

“The Gay Games are not separatist, they are not exclusive, they are not oriented to victory, and they are not for commercial gain,” Waddell wrote in an article on the games website.

“[The Games] are, however, intended to bring a global community together in friendship, to experience participation, to elevate consciousness and self-esteem, and to achieve a form of cultural and intellectual synergy.”

Waddell wanted to bring people of all sexual orientations together in an unprecedented effort and he wanted “to dispel the prevailing attitudes in sport regarding ageism, sexism, and racism.”

Weaving agrees.

“I think it’s important to understand the purpose of the Gay Games is not to showcase the top or the absolute best athletes in the world,” she explained. “It is to provide this amazing opportunity where many of the top elite athletes who may happen to be gay [or] bisexual are closeted at the Olympic level.”

From July 31 to August 7, 2010, over 10,000 participants from more than 70 nations gathered in Cologne for Gay Games VIII.

The motto of this year’s games was “Be part of it!” As an event that preaches non-exclusivity, the invitation was open for everyone to take part, whether heterosexual or homosexual, transgender or transsexual, and regardless of religion, ethnic heritage, political convictions or physical capabilities.

While open to everyone, those who promote the Gay Games, like any major sporting event, want participation from elite athletes in every discipline in order to help draw attention and interest.

Weaving says that she believes that the Gay Games encourage elite athletes to come out, but there are still barriers at the professional level.

“The problem,” she said, “is if they had any aspirations of moving up higher, there would still be some concern about coming out fully, in case of wanting to pursue a very elite career, because of the lack of sponsorship.”

“It’s just that it is so homophobic at that level, especially in North America. You need that kind of positive media coverage in order to succeed as an athlete,” Weaving added.

Setting professional sport and the homophobia within it aside, the Gay Games have changed the way the world views homosexuality and sport.