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The Gay Games: An inclusive and diverse alternative to the Olympics

Founded by Tom Waddell in 1982, the Gay Games is the inclusive version of the Olympics. The sporting event is set to take place this November.

The Gay Games: An inclusive and diverse alternative to the Olympics
Image Source: Gay Games / Facebook

In 1982, the first-ever Gay Games was held in San Francisco, United States. The sporting event was created by Tom Waddell, a gay physician and sportsman. The idea came to him after he attended the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. During the opening ceremony, as he looked around him at the parade of athletes from around the world, Waddell realized his friends from the LGBTQ+ community would perhaps never experience something as thrilling. Therefore, he created the inclusive sporting event, then called the Gay Olympics before the International Olympic Committee sued over the name. The next Gay Games is set to take place later this year, in November, CNN reports.


"The formula for success was visibility and identity," Waddell stated in an interview following the first Gay Games in 1982. "And both were right there on the field. We were visible, and we were identified. And what did people see? They saw healthy people, out there, doing something that everyone could understand. They were out there to compete and have fun: success. That's what the first Gay Games were all about." Unfortunately, the founder passed away a few years later, in 1987. He died of AIDS, after being diagnosed only two years later.


Despite his passing, the Gay Games are held every four years. According to Shiv Paul, the vice president of external relations for the Federation of Gay Games, the event draws over 10,000 athletes and sometimes seven or eight times as many spectators. Like both the Summer and Winter Olympics, the Gay Games feature many of the same events such as figure skating, track and field, and diving. Nonetheless, there are a few additions, like bowling, e-sports, and dodgeball. In order to compete, individuals do not have to be professional athletes. In fact, participants do not even have to be part of the LGBTQ+ community.


There is another difference as well: Unlike at the Olympics, activism is encouraged at the Gay Games. When the sporting event was first founded, it was a cradle for demonstrations against and discussions about the HIV/AIDS crisis. Most importantly, however, the Gay Games is a safe space for queer and trans people to gather safely, play the sports that they love, and be themselves without fear of discrimination and violence. In this way, the sporting event has become an act of protest in and of itself, in the face of mainstream events where members of the LGBTQ+ community are systemically excluded.


Waddell affirmed in an interview, "The games are really not about athletics. They're about a statement on the quality of our lives." In addition to banning discrimination based on gender, sexuality, race, and other traits, the Gay Games will not deny a participant entry on the basis of their HIV status. Furthermore, the event successfully lobbied the United States government to briefly waive a previous ban on HIV-positive people entering the country so they could compete in the 1994 Gay Games in New York and in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. This year, the athletic event will take place in Hong Kong, between November 11 and November 19. You can learn more about this year's Gay Games here.


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