Do Gays Need Their Own Olympics? (Part I)

Isbel Diaz Torres

Gay Games Colonia. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES — A good friend of mine lent me an interesting documentary about the “Gay Games,” so I wanted to share a few comments about it, especially since so many people on the planet are now concentrating on the 2012 London Olympics.

Needless to say, most of the people around me gave me a strange look when I mentioned the existence of such an athletic competition, which is why I had to share part of the story with them.

Some history

The Gay Games are held every four years, though they were originally called the “Gay Olympics.” They were forced to change the name to the “Gay Games” when the US Olympic Committee, adopting a homophobic stance, threatened to sue the organizers.

The event — which is attended every year by many athletes, artists, intellectuals and activists — was the brainchild of the truly successful Tom Waddell, a US decathlete who came in sixth place in the 1968 Mexico Olympics but who died a victim of AIDS in 1997.

The first games, held in San Francisco in 1982, were attended by 1,300 athletes from twelve countries, with 300 volunteers assisting in its realization. The opening ceremony included a performance by the great Tina Turner, generating euphoria among the 10,000 spectators in the grandstands.

Gay Games Colonia 2010 Foto:

But of course those figures didn’t remain at that level. The last competition, held in the German city of Cologne in 2010, saw the participation of 9,000 athletes (competing in 35 disciplines) from 65 countries, including Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, El Salvador, Ghana, Liberia, Peru, Suriname, United Arab Emirates, Mexico and Sri Lanka.

The opening ceremony, in which the various delegations sang their traditional songs, was attended by German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who is openly gay; and Olympic gold medalist Matthew Mitcham, who read out the oath to the athletes.

The Need for the Gay Games

The Gay Games have become one of the major international sporting events for many athletes, who welcome them, especially because any adult can participate – including people with disabilities or physical limitations.

But its scale has been achieved despite our societies’ homophobic sports institutions, the most reactionary bastions of homophobia.

Many participants in the 2010 Gay Games had to assume false identities for fear of being persecuted or losing their jobs when they returned to their cities.

Unfortunately, when sports are taught, what’s essentially taught is how not to be a woman or how not to be gay. The recent televised remarks by the young Cuban swimmer Hanser Garcia in London confirmed this when he said, “al agua hay que ir macho, machon” (“You have to hit the water as a male, a super male”).

Gay Games Colonia 2010

These are expressions that, like in the army, energize the athlete or fighter. The same happens with women, except that — on top of fostering schizophrenia — society demands that after the  training or competition they should have soft and “feminine” appearance.

It’s very uncomfortable to see a male baseball player described as “effeminate” or a female swimmer branded “too manly” under our prevailing hetero-normative, patriarchal, sexist notions of “common sense.” With those stigmatized images and fear, many people today still have to live, compete and win.

This is also understood by the activists and athletes in the documentary Take the Flame. They are people who through these games are seeking to “focus on the healthy aspects of the community,” a community pathologized by hegemonic discourse and our constantly manipulated social consciousness.

(To be continued…)


Isbel Diaz

Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.