Founded as the Gay Olympics, it was started in the United States in San Francisco, California, in 1982, as the brainchild of Olympic decathlete (Mexico City 1968) and medical doctor Tom Waddell, Rikki Streicher, and others, whose goals were to promote the spirit of inclusion and participation, as well as to promote the pursuit of personal growth in a sporting event.
It retains similarities with the Olympic Games, including the Gay Games flame which is lit at the opening ceremony. The games are open to all who wish to participate, without regard to sexual orientation, and there are no qualifying standards. Competitors come from many countries, including those where homosexuality remains illegal and hidden.
The 1994 Gay Games, held in June in New York City to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, the modern start of the LGBT movement, "overtook the Olympics in size" with 10,864 athletes compared to 9,356 at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and 10,318 at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
The Federation of Gay Games (FGG) is the sanctioning body of the Gay Games. From its statement of concept and purpose:
The purpose of The Federation of Gay Games, Inc. (the “Federation”) shall be to foster and augment the self-respect of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and all sexually-fluid or gender-variant individuals (LGBT+) throughout the world and to promote respect and understanding from others, primarily by organising and administering the international quadrennial sport and cultural event known as the “Gay Games.”
Host nations and cities
Gay Games I: San Francisco 1982
The 1982 games took place in San Francisco from August 28 to September 5, 1982. Singer Tina Turner performed at the opening ceremonies, and Stephanie Mills performed at the closing ceremonies. The original sports that were offered at the first Gay Games were; basketball, billiards, bowling, cycling, diving, golf, marathon, physique, powerlifting, soccer, softball, swimming, tennis, track and field, volleyball and wrestling. 1,350 competitors whose origins ranged from over 170 cities worldwide competed in the first Gay Games.
Gay Games II: San Francisco 1986
The 1986 games took place in San Francisco from August 9 to 17, 1986. Singers Jennifer Holliday and Jae Ross were the featured performers during the closing ceremonies. There was an increase of competing athletes in the second Gay Games participants to over 3,500.
Gay Games III: Vancouver 1990
The 1990 games took place in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, from August 4 to 11, 1990. Approximately 7,300 athletes took part in 27 sports, with another 1,500 cultural participants attending. Opening and closing ceremonies were at BC Place Stadium (20 years later to be the site of the 2010 Winter Olympics opening ceremony and the 2010 Winter Olympics closing ceremony). This was the first games to be held outside the United States, and it is also notable for being the first games in which Masters world records were set (two, in swimming).
The event was also heralded by controversy from social conservatives. A Fraser Valley church's members took out full page ads in The Vancouver Sun and The Province condemning the event as proof of an "impending sodomite invasion" and encouraging residents to gather at Empire Stadium to pray against the event. The government of then-Premier Bill Vander Zalm refused to fund the event.
Original video documentation, photographs, and textual records related to Celebration '90 Gay Games III, originally gathered by Forward Focus, artist Mary Anne McEwen's production company and official videographer of the Games. The items are available via VIVO Media Arts Centre's archive, both in-person by appointment or digitally online. The fond includes 143 unedited 30-minute Betacam recordings of sporting competitions, cultural events, opening and closing ceremonies, backstage activities and interviews with organizers, athletes, artists, community representatives, and opponents. The fond also includes 240 photographs, Celebration ’90 ephemera, and extensive textual materials, including the Official Program. McEwen was a Vancouver-based LGBTQ activist, Gayblevision co-founder, and co-organizer of the first Out On Screen Film and Video Festival. The footage was shot in anticipation of a feature-length documentary entitled, “Legacy: The Story of the Gay Games” that McEwen was unable to complete due to insufficient funding. McEwen, a longtime VIVO member, bequeathed her personal archive to VIVO hoping that this footage would be made widely available.
Gay Games IV: New York 1994
There were over 15,000 participants that either competed in the sporting events or in cultural ceremonies in the Gay Games of 1994. Greg Louganis, a prominently known homosexual diver and world champion, competed in the 1994 New York Gay Games. The sporting events of Gay Games IV expanded to thirty one from previous years, including but not limited to, flag football, figure skating, and the first ever internationally sanctioned women's wrestling.
Gay Games V: Amsterdam 1998
Gay Games VI: Sydney 2002
The 2002 game took place in Sydney, New South Wales, from November 2 to 9, 2002. Sydney won the bid to host the games from other contenders which were Montreal, Toronto, Long Beach/Los Angeles and Dallas. The Games opening included a speech by out gay High Court of Australia Justice Michael Kirby and were officially opened by New South Wales Governor Professor Marie Bashir. When Gay Games VI was chosen to be in Sydney, Australia it was partially because of already present GLQBTI sport teams. The aspect of Western sports and culture is integrated into the Sydney Gay Games due to the advertisement, emphasizing the turnout of GLQBTI men of Western origin and that had enough money for travel.
Gay Games VII: Chicago 2006
Gay Games VII were held in Chicago, Illinois, from July 15 to July 22, 2006. For more on the controversy surrounding Chicago's selection as host city, see Schism in LGBT sports communities over Gay Games VII below.
Gay Games VIII: Cologne 2010
On March 16, 2005, the FGG announced that Cologne, Germany; Johannesburg, South Africa; and Paris, France, were the official candidate cities for Gay Games VIII in 2010. Cologne was elected at the FGG annual meeting in Chicago on November 14, 2005.
The games were held in Cologne from July 31 to August 6, 2010. This marked the second time the games were held in Europe, with the first being in Amsterdam in 1998.
Gay Games IX: Cleveland and Akron 2014
On September 29, 2009, at the FGG Site Selection Meeting in Cologne, Germany, Cleveland was chosen as presumptive host of Gay Games IX in 2014. The host organization, Cleveland Special Events Corporation, later expanded the host city to include nearby Akron, Ohio. They also chose to style their event as "Gay Games 9" rather than the traditional Roman numeral "Gay Games IX".
Future Gay Games
Gay Games X: Paris 2018
On July 31, 2012, the FGG announced that seven cities had been approved as prospective bidders. The groups were from Amsterdam, the Netherlands; Limerick, Ireland; London, United Kingdom; Orlando, Florida, United States; Paris, France; and a group proposing to host the Gay Games in either Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo, Brazil.
By August 31, 2012, a letter of intent to bid were received from all groups except those in Brazil.
In December 2012, the FGG announced that several requests from bidders to add new sports to the program of the games. Of these requests, that for the inclusion of polo was rejected, while those for archery, boxing, fencing, pétanque, roller derby and wheelchair rugby were approved. Of these, boxing, pétanque, roller derby and wheelchair rugby were included in the bids of the three finalist bidding organizations.
Bid books were provided by February 28, 2013 with a Q&A held over April & May 2013. A shortlisting vote took place on May 31, 2013 resulting in the shortlisting of Limerick, London and Paris as the final three cities to continue on the 2018 Bid cycle. Shortlisted cities received a 4-day visit (inspection sites) from a team of FGG inspectors (4 delegates + 1 CM) in July 2013. The final vote took place in Cleveland (Ohio, USA) during the 2013 Annual General Assembly. On 7 October, Paris was elected host city for the 2018 Gay Games.
Gay Games XI: Hong Kong 2022
Hong Kong was announced as the host city of the 11th Gay Games, at a gala event at the Hotel de Ville in Paris, on 30 October 2017. They won with a clear majority of votes, in the first round of voting. It is the first time that the Gay Games will be held in Asia.
The "longlist" of cities interested in bidding to host Gay Games XI in 2022 was announced in April 2016. An unprecedented seventeen cities were interested in bidding. On 30 June 2016, the Federation of Gay Games announced that eleven cities had submitted their Letter Of Intent to formally bid. Anaheim, Atlanta, Des Moines, Madison, Minneapolis and San Antonio decided not to pursue their option to bid. On 31 July 2016, 9 cities submitted their second registration fee to remain in the bid process. Both Cape Town and Tel Aviv dropped out at this stage, stating an intention to bid for Gay Games XII in 2026. On 30 November 2016, Bid Books were submitted by eight candidate cities with Los Angeles dropping out at this stage.
A shortlist of three Candidate Cities was announced on 1 March 2017. Guadalajara, Hong Kong and Washington DC hosted site visits before the final decision on the host city was made in Paris on Monday 30 October.
Gay Games XII: 2026
The host city for Gay Games XII will be announced at an Annual General Meeting of the Federation of Gay Games. The meeting will take place in Hong Kong in the autumn of 2021.
At this early stage, evidence on social media exists for an exploratory bid by Brisbane, Australia and Brighton & Hove, United Kingdom. Anecdotal evidence from the 2022 bid process also suggests that Tel Aviv, Israel, will bid again, seeking to bring the Gay Games to the Middle East for the first time.
|Potential Candidate Cities|
Lawsuit over 'Gay Olympics' name
Dr. Tom Waddell, the former Olympian who helped found the games, intended them to be called the "Gay Olympics", but a lawsuit filed less than three weeks before 1982's inaugural Gay Olympics forced the name change.
Event organizers were sued by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) under the U.S. Amateur Sports Act of 1978, which gave the USOC exclusive rights to the word Olympic in the United States. Defendants of the lawsuit contended that the law was capriciously applied and that if the Nebraska Rat Olympics and the Police Olympics were not similarly prohibited, the Gay Olympics should not be either.
Some, like Jeff Sheehy, coauthor of San Francisco's domestic-partner legislation and former president of the Harvey Milk Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Democratic Club, believed homophobia to be a motivation behind the lawsuit. They cited the authorized use of the word "Olympics" by the Special Olympics and other organizations as evidence of this homophobia.
Others, like Daniel Bell, cite the IOC's long history of protecting the Olympics brand as evidence that the lawsuit against the "Gay Olympics" was not motivated by discrimination against gays. Since 1910 the IOC has taken action, including lawsuits and expulsion from the IOC, to stop certain organizations from using the word "Olympics." Annual "California Police Olympics" were held for 22 years, from 1967 through 1989, after which, the word Olympics was no longer used for the event. The Supreme Court ruled for the USOC in San Francisco Arts & Athletics, Inc. v. United States Olympic Committee.
A 2009 documentary film, Claiming the Title: Gay Olympics on Trial, was created in the United States and was previewed at several film festivals. The subject was also included in a 2005 film by David Sector, Take the Flame! Gay Games: Grace Grit & Glory.
In the years since the lawsuit, the Olympics and the Gay Games have set aside their initial hostilities and worked cooperatively together, successfully lobbying to have HIV travel restrictions waived for the 1994 Gay Games in New York and the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
Plans to launch Gay Winter Games in Fall 1986
Plans to launch a complementary Gay Winter Games, scheduled for February 1986 in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, collapsed, due to a lack of sufficient funding and logistical problems. There have been no subsequent attempts to launch a Gay Winter Games since, although Whistler, British Columbia, Canada, hosts an annual gay winter-sports festival.
Schism in LGBT sports communities over Gay Games VII
In 2001, the bidding organization from Montreal, Quebec, Canada, won the right to negotiate with the FGG for a licensing agreement to host the 2006 Gay Games, but after two years of failed negotiations Montreal broke off talks at the 2003 FGG annual meeting in Chicago. There were three main points of contention, over which neither party could agree:
- The size of the event
- The size of the budget – especially the planned break-even participation point
- Financial transparency
In a weakening global economy following international terrorist attacks, including the September 11 attacks, the FGG wanted Montreal to be able to plan for a successful Gay Games even if participation did not meet Montreal's optimistic projection of 24,000 participants, twice the level of participation of the previous Gay Games in 2002. Due to financial problems in previous events, the FGG also asked for transparency into Montreal 2006's financial activities. After Montreal refused to continue talks, the FGG held a second round of bidding in which Chicago and Los Angeles bidders, who had put forth well-received bids to host the 2006 games in the first round along with Montreal and Atlanta, chose to bid. Ultimately, the FGG awarded Gay Games VII to Chicago Games, Inc.
The Montreal organizing committee nevertheless decided to proceed to hold an athletic and cultural event without the sanction of the FGG; this plan developed into the first edition of the World Outgames, and the creation of its licensing body, the Gay and Lesbian International Sport Association.
Due to limited personal and organizational resources, many individual and team participants were forced to choose between Gay Games Chicago and World Outgames Montreal, a situation exacerbated by the two events being a week apart. The closing ceremony of Gay Games Chicago on July 22, 2006, was only seven days before the opening ceremony of World Outgames Montreal on July 29, 2006. This meant that those who competed or performed in Chicago would have little recovery time before Montreal. The split resulted in a lower quality of athletic competition at both events because neither could claim the whole field of competitors. Team and individual sports were hurt alike. Few teams were able to field complete squads for both events; In wrestling, 100 wrestlers competed in Chicago (comparable to previous Gay Games), but only 22 competed in Montreal, by far the lowest number for any major international tournament. There were some advantages to the games being so close together time wise and location wise. For some overseas participants who had to travel far, the convenience of the two events being only a week apart and not far from each other enabled them to attend both. Many did not attend at all. After Chicago drew 9,112 sport and cultural participants, of which 7,929 were from the USA. Montreal drew 10,248 athletes, 1,516 Conference Attendees and 835 people to the cultural component of the games reflecting more than 111 countries – more 60% of the organization's original projections."
Since 2006, the need for a secondary global multisport event has been the subject of much debate, especially after the final financial figures for 2006 were released. In 2012, a round of negotiations between the FGG and GLISA ended after a mutually agreed deadline. The board of GLISA unanimously agree to the proposal set forth by the negotiation teams, however the FGG board did not reciprocate. The Chicago Gay Games VII ended with no debt and all bills paid. In contrast, the Montreal World Outgames ended with $5.3 million (Canadian) of debt.
In addition, the lack of attendees and participants at both events resulted in GLISA (the organization which heads the Outgames) changing the years of the event to precede the years of the Gay Games, meaning that the World Outgames were held in 2009 in Copenhagen and the Gay Games held in Cologne in 2010, while the World Outgames were held in 2013 in Antwerp and Gay Games were held in 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio.
Media impact of AIDS on the Gay Games
Before and during the time of the 1986 Gay Games there was mass media about Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and how it was affecting the gay community. With the number of LGBT members at the Gay Games the founder Waddell took this time try and break the stereotype of the AIDS with a show of athleticism the Gay Games had to offer. This also was a time that volunteers would provide safe sex materials along with condoms to educate the public.
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