Washington Blade

July 27, 2006

For the second time in as many weeks, thousands of gay athletes are gathering to compete for gold medals and international recognition. (photo right: Montreal Olympic Stadium, site of opening and closing ceremonies and venue for several sports)

By Joshua Lynsen
OutGames, which starts this weekend in Montreal, follows closely on the heels of Gay Games VII, held in Chicago last week. Although the weeklong sports competitions are similar, OutGames adds cultural and political events to the mix.

“ I think people are coming here looking to have a good time, and looking to compete, and looking to experience Montreal,” said OutGames spokesperson Libby Post. “And I think they’ll get all three.”

With a budget of $14 million, the upstart OutGames costs less to produce than the $19.5 million Gay Games. But by several measures, the Montreal gathering is larger in size and scope.

An estimated 13,000 athletes will be among the 250,000 people expected to attend OutGames and an accompanying international gay rights conference, according to organizer estimates. Gay Games saw 12,000 athletes among a crowd that organizers estimate totaled 90,000 people.

Organizers in Chicago said this week they expect to post a profit after final numbers are tallied in August.
“We’re projecting a surplus,” said Gay Games spokesperson Phyllis Jones, “but I can’t tell you if that’s a million dollars or two dollars.”

Regardless of the financial outcome, Brent Minor, a Federation of Gay Games board member from D.C., said all the athletes he met took home fond memories from the Chicago competition.
In many cases, they also took home medals. Athletes from D.C. won more than 40 medals. “ I think everyone had a good experience,” he said. “I think this shows the enduring power of something like Gay Games.”

Post said OutGames organizers hope to provide athletes and spectators with similarly positive experiences.
“I think people will be pleasantly surprised when they come here,” she said. “There’s going to be a lot for people to remember after this week is over.”

Feud spawns competing event
OutGames was created following a protracted feud among gay sports officials. The dispute dates back to the 2002 Gay Games VI in Sydney, which was plagued by financial problems. Poor revenues triggered a bankruptcy filing by local organizers.

In the aftermath of that filing, the Federation of Gay Games pushed through a series of rules changes that required local organizers of future games to surrender financial control.

But officials who had already started planning Gay Games VII in Montreal steadfastly opposed the changes. They also opposed orders to scale back attendance projections, and make other changes.
Nearly two years of negotiations followed, as both sides attempted to work together, but no agreement could be reached.

In November 2003, the Montreal team announced it would hold the event as planned, independent of the Federation of Gay Games. Four months later, the Federation of Gay Games announced it would hold its event in Chicago.

Minor said the separation had negative repercussions. Athletes from D.C. were divided, with 230 going to Gay Games and another 130 headed to OutGames.

“ I don’t think there’s any question that that had some impact,” he said, “but it also demonstrated that it didn’t stop the games from going on — and I think going on successfully.”

Minor noted that future competitions won’t be held during the same year. The next OutGames will occur in Denmark in 2009, and Gay Games VIII will be held in Germany in 2010.

He said the staggered schedule will give athletes more opportunities to compete.
“It may be the best thing,” Minor said. “Sometimes you want a Coke rather than a Pepsi.” Post agreed. She also noted registration numbers have proven there’s enough interest to sustain multiple gatherings.
“ Clearly,” she said, “there are enough gay athletes in the world to support these two events.”

‘ Meaningful experiences’
More than 300 corporate sponsors contributed about $11 million to the Gay Games in cash and donations, organizers said.

OutGames officials said the competition will bring in the same amount from 54 corporate sponsors after cash and donations are converted to their U.S. dollar equivalent.

Spectator counts are less easily compared, partly because OutGames’ sports events are being preceded by an international gay rights conference. Also, the Chicago games occurred during a heat wave that sent thermometers into triple digit readings. “ When it’s 106 degrees,” Jones said, “you’re not going to have a lot of people sitting outside watching things.”

But despite the heat and some complaints about venues, Chicago organizers said athletes and spectators generally were pleased with the games. “It wasn’t perfect,” Jones said. “It would be a lie to say it was flawless. But the vast majority who were here had a great time.” Andrea Reister, 48, of Washington, D.C., was among those who left happy. The cyclist, who won two gold medals, said she enjoyed attending both the Chicago and Sydney games. “ I’ve been at two, and they’re still two of the most memorable and meaningful experiences of my life,” she said. “It’s always such a welcoming and positive experience to be had.”

Anti-gay protests limited at Gay Games
Protests of the games were limited. Minor said picketing by the conservative Christian group Illinois Family Institute didn’t disrupt the games. “ The protesters were so mild,” he said. “Maybe I’m just used to bigger protests here in Washington. Really, they were just kind of lonely and pathetic out there.” Peter LaBarbera, executive director of Illinois Family Institute, led a vigil outside a Chicago bathhouse that served as a Gay Games sponsor. “ We care about gay men enough to tell them to stop practicing degrading and potentially lethal behavior,” LaBarbera said in a statement.

Gay Games benefited from a long list of supporters, including Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and closing ceremonies performer Cyndi Lauper. “ I feel like this is becoming sort of a tradition for me since I performed last time the Gay Games were in the States, in New York City in 1994,” Lauper said in a statement.

Like the Gay Games, OutGames plans to capitalize on support from the local host government and star performers.

Post said the Canadian government contributed nearly $6 million in support. The government-owned Radio Canada also will broadcast the opening and closing ceremonies, and host daily OutGames programs.
Opening ceremony performers include k.d. lang, Cirque du Soleil, and “It’s Raining Men” singer Martha Wash. Liza Minnelli will perform at the closing ceremonies.

Post said other parties and cultural events during OutGames will emphasize Montreal’s diverse offerings.
“ This is an incredibly cultural city, Montreal,” she said. “We just thought that giving people the option to do lots of different things … is a great way to bring a multitude of people together from various backgrounds.”


The Australian

July 27, 2006

‘Alternative’ OutGames kicks off in Montreal

From correspondents in Montreal
Rowing, hockey, marathon, square dancing and best bondage or leather outfit competitions are all events at the first OutGames, preceded by the opening today of a human rights conference.

Organisers of this “alternative” gay games said they expect some 12,000 amateur athletes, thousands of spectators and delegates from 100 countries for the rights conference.

Co-president and swimmer Mark Tewksbury, a gold medallist in the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, said he hoped the event would also nurture tolerance in sports.

” Homophobia is rampant in professional sports. The locker room mentality says we can’t develop in a virile, masculine world. Showing a feminine side is considered a sign of weakness, and makes us vulnerable to attacks,” he told Montreal French-language magazine L’actualite.

Tewksbury and tennis legend Martina Navratilova will open the sports competitions on Sunday after the three-day rights conference with a “Declaration of Montreal” on gay rights.

The games’ 35 competition include synchronised swimming, karate, basketball, weight-lifting, golf and wrestling.

Up to 20 per cent of athletes at the Montreal OutGames are heterosexual, organisers said.
Millions of dollars in tourist spending are also at stake as the city tries to foment a reputation as a gay-friendly vacation hot spot, tourism officials said.

” The Right to Be Different” rights conference will bring together 2000 delegates to discuss human rights and include a keynote speech by UN Human Rights head Louise Arbour.
The conference aims is to promote gay, lesbian and transsexual rights worldwide, particularly in countries which ignore or trample on them, organisers said.

” The goal is to get an official declaration at the United Nations asking for recognition of gay rights. There are rights for children, women, handicapped people, but no gay rights,” Out Games director Louise Roy said.

” There are still UN members who oppose gay rights, but we hope to take small steps that will eventually bring us to the recognition of gay rights. In Canada, we’re less preoccupied with such because we’ve already achieved equal rights, but there are many countries where it remains very difficult to be gay,” she said.

Closing ceremonies will be held on August 5
An offshoot of the Federation of Gay Games, which held its seventh meet in Chicago last week, the Montreal event aimed for a more ambitious mission than its predecessor after the city was overlooked to host the original games.

Its goal is to foster tolerance and understanding, and to build bridges between the gay community and broader society, rather than simply celebrate gay pride – the focus of the Gay Games since its inception in San Francisco in 1982.



Augist 6,2006

Athletes contest first ‘Outgames’

By Alasdair Sandford, Montreal
The first World Outgames have ended in Montreal, where 12,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) athletes came together for a celebration of sport, culture and human rights.

It was more like a party than a closing ceremony. A team from Germany held up cards spelling out “Merci Montreal”. Up on stage, Liza Minelli delighted the athletes with her renditions of Cabaret and New York, New York. As the lights shone around the Olympic Stadium, some danced while others embraced.

Mark Tewksbury, the Outgames’ co-president and a swimming gold medallist from the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, was visibly moved as he declared the games closed. “Here we are not second class citizens,” he said.

There had been similar scenes the previous Saturday, when some 40,000 spectators greeted the competitors in the same arena for the opening ceremony. The tennis icon Martina Navratilova was given a rapturous reception as she and Mark Tewksbury read out a new human rights declaration in defence of LGBT people.

Montreal has not witnessed an event on this scale since the city hosted the 1976 Olympics almost exactly 30 years ago.

At the heart of the “village” district, a kilometre-long stretch of the rue St Catherine has been a continuous street festival. Companies pledged their support in billboard advertisements everywhere. Huge rainbow flags hung from balconies; others were pinned up in restaurant and shop windows. Medal winners were congratulated by passers-by on the metro.

As often happens in amateur competition, the events themselves – which ranged from athletics and powerlifting, to dancesport and bridge – often attracted more participants and their friends than external spectators. But for Mark Tewksbury, it didn’t matter that the small rostrum in the entrance hall to the Olympic pool had little of the grandeur of Barcelona 1992.

Inside out
The Canadian also won gold in Montreal – seeing off a challenge from Daniel Veatch, another former Olympian who swam for Team USA at Seoul 1988 – to win the 100 metres backstroke. Tewksbury documented his own painful coming out process in the world of top level sport in his book Inside Out. “The Olympics ask us to be better athletes,” he said. “The Outgames ask us to be better people.”

English referee
Sprinter André Mitchell from Toronto, where he’s trained with former Olympic champion Donovan Bailey, won five gold medals and one silver. The American Lan Tritsch’s time of 39.92 seconds for the 100 metres may have been 30 seconds outside the world record – but it was no mean feat for an 81-year-old, and he too won gold in his age group.

On the whole the games ran smoothly, despite the odd hiccup – such as when Dutch athlete Agnes Elling turned up for the women’s 100 metres hurdles to find she was the only competitor.

Some competitions pitted lovers and partners against each other. Fabrice from the Paris-Lyon Arc-en-ciel football team found himself marking his boyfriend Sebastien, playing for Belgium’s Pink Devils. The French team’s 7-0 victory failed to damage their relationship. During the same match the whistle blew after some pushing and shoving in the penalty area. The English referee took aside the two offending players. “Normally in these situations I say ‘do you two fancy each other?’ and they separate straightaway,” he chided them. “In your case I suppose I’ll just have to say ‘at least wait till afterwards’.”

Mission accomplished
Confusingly for many people, the Outgames are distinct from this year’s Gay Games which took place in Chicago last month. These were originally due to be held in Montreal but were moved after a series of disputes between Gay Games officials and the Montreal organising committee.

Outgames competitors came from more than a hundred nations, including several developing countries thanks to a special bursary programme. Not all went as planned: a team from Cameroon – a country known for its repression of homosexuals – was refused entry by Canadian immigration.

The motto of the games was “We play for real”. For the organisers, they have been about fostering tolerance in sport to enable gay and lesbian athletes to compete openly, free from discrimination and exclusion.

Martina Navratilova said the Outgames were important to “let the heterosexual community know who we are and what we’re all about”. In Montreal it’s certainly a case of “mission accomplished”.

(4) OutGames Montreal Human Rights Conference 2006
By Richard Ammon, GlobalGayz.com

Four days prior to the OutGames sports events an international LGBT human rights conference was held at the Palais des Congres in downtown Montreal, July 26-29, 2006.
1500 delegates from over 100 countries attended making it the largest LGBT rights conference ever held.

Organizers plan to hold similar conferences with future OutGames. More information can be seen at: www.glisa.org

One of the main purposes of the Conference was to raise the profile of LGBT human rights at the United Nations and in other international forums and organizations, and to show national governments that LGBT human rights must be taken seriously as an international human rights issue.

At the close of the conference the “Declaration of Montreal” was presented demanding action by the United Nations, international organizations and national governments regarding LGBT human rights.

Photo Essay of Human Rights Conference.

See photos of Montreal OutGames
and photo essay of the Human Rights Conference

Also see:
Gay Canada Stories
Gay Canada News and Reports 2000 to present
Gay Canada Photo Galleries

Photos by Richard Ammon (GlobalGayz.com)
Story updated 2012