The Gay Games, Cologne 2010
There was a tidbit in the Guardian yesterday that caught my eye about the 8th annual Gay Games, to be held in Cologne. It was a short piece, giving only the bare bones, and I have a cynical suspicion that if this weren’t July – the summer months, aka the ‘silly season’, traditionally being devoid of ‘real’ news, at least in Britain – it might not have made it in. Certainly not made the front page of the website.
The article is . . . okay, though it misidentifies the gay Australian athlete Matt Mitcham as a gymnast (he’s actually a diver) and makes an utterly inexplicable reference to ‘transgender ballroom dancing’. Dancesport is on the GG programme, but is not – indeed, none of their sports are – restricted to participants of a particular sex, gender or cis/trans status. From their Mission Statement:
. . . no individual shall be excluded from participating on the basis of sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, nationality, ethnic origin, political belief(s), athletic/artistic ability, physical challenge, age, or health status.
The only explanation I can think of for this bizarre aside is that GG does not require dancesport pairs to be man/woman; I haven’t found this stated anywhere on their site, but it would seem in keeping with their ethos. Notice to the Guardian: gender-neutral =! transgender (and your subeditor should be ashamed.)
Anyway, failings of the article aside, it did fulfil its most basic purpose, to spread awareness that the Gay Games even exist. I hadn’t heard about them at all until yesterday, and it seems like the kind of event that could do with more publicity.
The world of sport is lagging far behind other major spheres in terms of the number of openly gay and bisexual people active in it. For an (admittedly unscientific) comparison, I can think of five sitting gay MPs – Ben Bradshaw, Angela Eagle, Stephen Twigg, Alan Duncan, and David Laws, plus Peter Mandelson, who isn’t an MP but is still distressingly ubiquitous in UK politics. By contrast, as far as openly gay British sportspeople are concerned, there’s Gareth Thomas and that’s pretty much it – and there are far more professional sportspeople than there are professional politicians.
The Cologne Gay Games are expecting around ten thousand competitors, which is about as many as you get at a modern Olympiad – there were 10,500 athletes at Athens ’04, and 11,028 at Beijing two years ago. Now, to be sure, not all of the athletes at the Gay Games will actually be gay: their mission statement specifically says they do not discriminate on grounds of sexuality. However, even if half their attendance were heterosexual allies, that would still make around five thousand gay athletes.
There were ten openly gay and bisexual Olympians at the Beijing Games.
Gareth Thomas has been on the receiving end of homophobic abuse from fans since coming out. That’s bad, to be sure. But the club in question, the Castleford Tigers, got fined £40,000 by their governing body the RFL for failure to adequately deal with the abuse, and both the Tigers and the RFL have made it abundantly clear that this will not be tolerated.
Gareth Thomas didn’t face government persecution (or, for that matter, prosecution) when he came out of the closet. He kept his old trophies, he maintained his career, his teammates shrugged their shoulders and got on with the game. Many, maybe most, of the athletes who travel to the Gay Games won’t, or wouldn’t, be able to say the same. The most telling sentence in the Guardian article is the one noting that “many of the participants have adopted false identities because of fears that they will be persecuted on their return home.”
It’s wonderful that an event like this exists, to allow gay athletes from all over the world the chance to play the sports they love without having to conceal their sexuality.
It’s sad that we need it, though.