It wasn’t until I moved to London that I encountered the world of gay sports.
I was looking for a way to meet people and make friends – after a fair bit of fruitless Googling, I stumbled upon a directory of gay sports clubs, emailed one that I thought I’d be okay at (water polo – actually much harder than I imagined) and within days i was pulling on my Speedos and nervously signing up for a beginners session.
It sounds hyperbolic to say that joining a gay sports club has changed my life, but it’s true. Not only have I made great friends, improved my social life, and sharpened up my fitness, but I’ve grown in confidence, and discovered a love of sport.
What I find surprising is that my experience is not unique. Around the world gay men and lesbians are establishing teams and clubs, increasing participation in sports and physical exercise, and delivering significant health and social benefits for a community that often seems defined by blood test results and suicide rates.
There’s two key events that seem to have acted as catalysts for the organization and creation of the gay and lesbian sports movement.
In the mid-1970s in San Francisco, the Frontrunners running club was established by Jack Baker, Gardner Pond, and Bud Budlong. Named after a Patricia Nell Warren novel (The Front Runner) about a gay track coach, the concept of a gay running club quickly spread across the US and then the world – there’s now over 100 clubs worldwide who all belong to the International Frontrunnersorganization. The novel feels a little dated these days, but for many years it was powerful and moving force for helping gay men understand that it was okay to be themselves.
In 1982 in San Francisco, Dr Tom Waddell organized the first Gay Games. When you look at the history of some of the oldest gay and lesbian sports clubs, it’s clear that the experience of participating in a large, multi-sport event that also celebrated being gay or lesbian had a huge impact on the people who took part – they came home and started working towards the next one. Held every four years, the Gay Games now attracts around 10,000 participants and is one of the world’s largest sporting and cultural events.
Read in full here.