By Richard Ammon
August 14, 2010

I’m back home from another stellar week of the Gay Games, my 7th, in Cologne, Germany (July 31-Aug 7). The Gay Games are the gay version of the Olympics but since we legally can’t called them that, Gay Games will have to do. Besides that name rings truer to the purpose of participation and personal best.

They are fun above all, not deadly serious competition between nations. (There were more than 40 countries represented at the Games.) If you are gay (LGBT) go to the next one in 2014 in Cleveland–or the similar OutGames in Antwerp in 2013. There is hardly a better experience of personal validation of one’s gay identity than this. (photo right: Richard Ammon in Cologne)

While the fundies and skinheads of Europe and most (not all) Islamic folks rail against us; while America kicks gays out of the military; Iraqi death squads execute suspected gays and Ugandan gay rights activists are arrested and harassed…the Gay Games are a powerful antidote to the disease of homophobia. Irrational hatred that tears families apart and compels a father to murder his gay son or daughter for ‘honor’. (photo left, Team Iceland)

In the streets of Cologne (Koln) during and after the Games, dozens of cafes, bars, discos, saunas, health organizations, youth clubs, sports teams–all offer a wide cornucopia of the good life to all its citizens, gay, straight and in between. German foreign minister Westerwelle publicly welcomed the athletes and celebrants to the country and the city.

To my surprise and delight, the American ambassador to Germany, Philip D. Murphy, showed up at the swimming competition to cheer us on and acknowledge our community. Openly gay Olympic gold medalist diver Matthew Mitchum spoke at the Games opening ceremony and also came to the swimming pool to give a pep talk and take a few hugs. (photo right)

Mixing with so many straight and LGBT people is something I’m accustomed to over the years. I’ve never had more than a slight slur tossed at me while more courageous activist friends of mine have been arrested and beaten. It is because of their bravery that Cologne is a safe haven for all citizens–despite the potential ‘threat’ from some intolerant Middle Eastern conservative immigrants into Germany.

But they were a distance away and the spirit of the Games was palpably visible and audible at the 25 sports venues and in the central city where ‘villages’ were set up, with music, food and entertainment for visitors and natives alike to hang out, meet and greet, drink beer (sensibly).

I sat with a group of lesbians for lunch one day at WomenPlace, a popular social eatery in Rudolfplatz. We talked about politics, gay life and money matters–normal things. Women leaned on each other, held hands, kissed, laughed, drank, ate, and felt tottaly free to do these things. (photo left: Team Cologne had 900 members!)

It is this freedom that impressed me most. Freedom to choose touching, freedom to express divergent political ideas, freedom to breathe the air of LGBT life without hesitation, without fear. It’s sounds cliched but ‘love was in the air’; love of life, sport, sexual diversity, love of law and order that permits registered gay partner ships. Things many of us take for granted in this new age of openness–in the ‘Developed West’. (photo right, Andrea from Long Beach)

I thought about the friends and correspondents (via my website GlobalGayz,.com) who live where love is hidden from view, where institutionalized bigotry openly persecutes LGBT citizens.

One of the swimmers was actually from Bangladesh where same-sex love brings harsh reprisals. His Games ID tag showed only his first name. But his spirit was in full name, smiling and ready to splash in the waters of freedom.