The largest gay event in Europe in years had it’s grand opening Saturday evening in central Copenhagen as about 6000 athletes from 80 countries marched in procession across the huge stage specially built for the World OutGames 2009 ceremony in front of the city’s great gothic City Hall.
Accompanied by enormous sounds of music–including the new Out Games anthem ‘Freedom’ sung by Anisette, from the Danish pop group Savage Rose–blazing colored lights and cheering crowds Copenhagen’s central square was alive with the Pride of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender athletes and supporters of the world as they arrived for week of competitions in 30 different sports at two dozen venues around the city—as varied as ballrooms for dancing, tracks for running and pools for swimming and walls for climbing. Banners hung across the summer streets, already filled with thousands of cruise-ship and visiting tourists, announced the OutGames for all to see.
The program book (photo left) listing all athletic, cultural, artistic and entertainment events for the week was 250 pages long–not counting the Human Rights Conference program book which was another hundred pages plus the 50-page Copenhagen Catalogue of Good Practices (policies and actions for changing the world).
Previous OutGames (and Gay Games) opening festivities have been held in stadiums away from city centers (Montreal, Sydney, Amsterdam, New York and other pro-gay cities). But since Denmark is one of the most progressive gay-positive countries in the world it was no surprise that it welcomed the rainbow athletes into the very heart of Copenhagen, to receive a message from the Prime Minister and speeches by the Lord Mayor and OutGames organizers. The entry of the more than 6000 athletes was followed by dancers, singers, acrobats and performers who entertained the crowds into the night; many in the audience were there from around the world to see the ceremony while many locals came for a beer and a chat with friends.
The theme of the Games was ‘Love of Freedom—Freedom to Love’, emphasizing the freedom of all people to love whomever they wish without restriction or persecution.
During the week of sports, numerous musical, dance, operatic presentations were offered free by ‘OutCities’ (Melbourne, Antwerp, Mexico City, Rio, Tel Aviv and Aarhus in Denmark) at various outdoor stages throughout the city. The mayors of these cities also came together in Copenhagen to share their ideas on tolerance and policies. Copenhagen has five ‘deputy’ mayors, two of who are LGBT.
As in past Games, the largest and most attended single sport was swimming, diving and synchronized swimming (male and female) which had about 700 registered participants in over 100 different events (photo left) including the exhausting 1500 meter freestyle races that take about 25 minutes per race. Tennis, soccer, track and field, and bowling were also popular.
The host city of Copenhagen supported the OutGames with hundreds of gay and non-gay volunteers who oversaw every detail of each sport including snacks, timing, referees, signage, registration, safety monitors, and technical consultants.
Only a couple of small anti-gay efforts happened with the police arresting a young man who threw an explosive device at runners in the track and field events. One runner received a minor injury to his hand and was back on the track the next day.
On the very last day the most difficult sport of triathalon (run, bike, swim) was held in the suburbs and on the waterfront where the swimming leg was held in the clean but cold (20 C) ocean water.
Speaking of cold swims, this writer has been a swimming enthusiast for decades and has participated in all the Gay Games since 1984 when Tom Waddell envisioned an international gay sports competition to rival the Olympics. Today, 25 years later, there are two such huge events, the OutGames came along in 2006 (in Montreal); both attract thousands of athletes making them larger than the regular Olympics.
If Waddell were alive (his battle against HIV/AIDS is one of the subjects of the award-winning documentary Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt.) he would be amazed at what extravaganzas these events have become. This year Copenhagen was the host city for the 2nd OutGames. (In 2010 Cologne, Germany will host the 8th Gay Games.)
Keeping in shape for swimming is no easy task (you do ‘lose it’ if you don’t ‘use it’!) so I came to Copenhagen a few days early to practice using a 50-meter-long pool (165 feet, the standard size for international meets). I have been using a much shorter 25-yard pool (75 feet, most common size in the USA) for months but the difference between the two is nearly 100 feet (30 meters). That’s a huge difference in a race, and doubly so for a master’s swimmer over 60.
Since the competition pool for the OutGames was brand new and was being fine-tuned up to the last minute, I had to find an alternative. Not surprising for a Scandinavian country where cold is a relative term, Copenhagen has an enormous pool (Islands Brygge pool) that’s 75 meters long (about 250 feet one way) located in a city canal (one of several canals) with surprisingly clean water that’s fed by the North Sea. (photo right)
With much self-reliance I dove into the 20-degree (C) water (about 68 degrees F) and was shocked into breathless thrashing that I somehow turned into coordinated swimming movements and swam my first length. Shall we call it ‘bracing’, as the Brits say? It felt ‘f–king cold’, to use American vernacular.
But since I had to return to my starting place, one lap turned into two and then into four and then six. By then I was either numb or invigorated, I wasn’t sure. But afterwards I understood the value of workouts in chilly water—perhaps not so extreme, but I definitely worked harder. In fact, I went back for three more days until the ‘warm’ competition pool was opened. Cold is relative.
The OutGames pool at Bellahoj opened the day before competition started with clear water and tiled lines on the bottom. It was of course more humane but I confess I did miss the daunting challenge of the Brygge pool.
Swimming was one of about 30 sports during the weeks and as often is the case, competitors have to be at their venue to await their particular race or match. Since the time of each event is uncertain, it’s difficult to visit other sports as one is rather confined to their venue, especially if one has more than one race. Swimming is the most popular sport at the Games but it also the most confining for athletes.
Concurrent Human Rights Conference
The OutGames differ from the Gay Games in that the former mount an international Human Rights Conference during the same week drawing even more hundreds to the city for speeches, workshops, films, demonstrations, hosted parties and trainings that allow activists to network and support each others’ advocacy work.
Also under the same theme as the Games, ‘Love of Freedom—Freedom to Love’, a variety of tracks focused the conference into special topics such as Culture and Media, Family and Relationships, Sexuality and Health, and Human Rights and Politics. Well organized and efficiently run by OutGames volunteers and Danich Radio staff, the three day event was emotionally and intellectually packed as victories and defeats were shared by panel members and plenary speakers. A logistical problem arose for a number of OutGames athletes who also attended the Conference since the Conference and the Games overlapped for the first three days of the week. But the intended impact, purpose and outcome of the Conference were obvious and clear. (See Conference Report on this site)