The following is an excerpt of a “White Paper” prepared in 1982 by Dr. Tom Waddell, founder of the Gay Games, answering a question, “Why a Gay Games?”
The recent Gay Games/San Francisco ’82 was a phenomenal event in gay history. It was an Olympiad in the truest sense of the word: a festival of athletics and art.
But they were also a great deal more!
The first Gay Games were an experiment in global unity and they were an experiment in education. They were also a vehicle for change.
I use the word experiment because what was involved in the event was the process of discovery. Looking carefully at our openly gay society, we can see that we are in rapid transition from a one dimensional community struggling for an easement, towards a complex and multifaceted community that has the potential of providing a multitude of new horizons for ourselves and just as important, for others.
We as openly gay men and women have achieved significant new freedoms which have been centered on liberation from the oppression due to our sexual preferences. But that needn’t be the end point. This recent achievement is part of a process that needs to be expanded to encompass other areas of our lives. In short, we need to discover more about the PROCESS of our sexual liberation and apply it meaningfuIIy to other forms of liberation.
The Gay Games are not separatist, they are not exclusive, they are not oriented to victory, and they are not for commercial gain. They ARE, however, intended to bring a global community together in friendship, to experience participation, to elevate consciousness and self-esteem and to achieve a form of cultural and intellectual synergy.
We have an opportunity to make these events impact on an entire world that is in transition. There is such a great need for exemplary action today and openly gay men and women have been granted that mandate by virtue of their first great step of avoiding sexual self-deception. It is important to eliminate all forms of deception and we need to learn more about the tools with which to do that. We are involved in the process of altering opinions whose foundations lie in ignorance. We have the opportunity to take the initiative on critical issues that affect the quality of life and we can serve in a way that makes all people the beneficiary.
The Gay Games as conceived in 1980 had an aImost comic start. Since there were no international ties to the sports organizations existing in the gay communities and since those organizations were generally functioning on local levels, or were confined to gender exclusivity, there was an initial skepticism about the viability of the Games. To many it seemed an impossible and foolhardy undertaking.
A great deal of hard work and dogged determination to MAKE them happen, regardless of the magnitude of success, was effected by a small group of volunteers. There were no precedents for such an undertaking and the credibility of the Games was not established until well into the ceremonies on Opening Day of August 28, 1982. From that moment on, skepticism eroded rapidly and the subsequent week of activities clearly established the Gay Games as a viable force towards positive action and unity for the global gay population. The vision of a world-wide celebration for openly gay men and women is now history and documented as GAY GAMES I/SAN FRANCISCO ’82.
Basic Principles and Objectives
The principles that propelled Gay Games I to reality have, as their core concept, the notion that the Games are a vehicle for eductaion and change regarding the perception of homosexuality by openly gay men and women. A clear sense of identity and self-esteem was the primary objective. Gay Games I was enormously successful in terms of our self-education.
Another prime objective was to permit the process of discovery among the many groups within the gay community, in particular the men and women. The previously disparate gay male and female groups within the gay subculture were suddenly in an interactive situation and the terms most descriptive of that interaction were: cooperation, friendship, and mutual support.
Athletically speaking, the objective of making participation and self-fulfillment the priority over the traditional concept of winning was continually stressed. The response to this was superb and that objective should continue to be a priority. The alternative to participation for self-fulfillment, that is, to make winning the end point for success, is to capitulate to the traditional destructive philosophy of competitive athletics. Winning, when made a priority, creates an adversary climate, and when winning becomes important, then it also makes losing important. We wish to stress the recreational and cooperative aspects of sport and attempt to avoid the destructive and divisive concept, and prevalent belief that “beating someone else” constitutes winning. We wish to propagate the concept that “doing one’s best” creates an entire field of winners and redefines the notion of excellence to encompass each individual’s capabilities.
Another objective was to dispel the prevailing attitudes in sport regarding ageism, sexism and racism. Gay men and women are not immune, simply because they are pursuing freedom of sexuality. from the same prejudices which inhabit the rest of society. We may even be guilty of taking some of them to extremes.
We say that we are different. Let’s be different in a way that characterizes us as friendly and fair. Let’s become the teachers, but let us first have something worthwhile to teach.
It must be stessed that the Gay Games are for everyone to enjoy. To this end we must go even further in Gay Games II in the following ways:
1. Co-sexual teams and events wherever possible with the only restriction reflecting our concern for safety. This was accomplished to some extent in GG I quite successfully. There is ample opportunity to expand.
2. Age group competition. This again was well received but confined to only a few sports. Expansion will open it to a great many more people.
3. Encouragement of all racial and ethnic minorities, hearing impaired, and disabled. Homosexuality transcends these lives as it does business people and blue-collar workers. The Games must reflect our full diversity. This must not be a passive program, it is incumbent upon us to actively recruit minority participation. We have already shown in GG I that the event is not just gay/white/male, but that it is characterized by its making prejudicial barriers invisible.
In spite of an assumed and often verbalized disdain for competitive athletics in the gay communities, it was abundantly clear from the outset of Gay Games I that a great deal of participation in organized athletics was inherent in the gay population. This resource of activity was one that had never been adequately tapped for all the potentlal lt had as a unifylng force.
Gay populations vary widely in socio-economic, political, and religious climates, and there appears to be few issues other than a collective sense of opppression that serves our common good. The truth is, if we can examine and utilize those features we all have in common (our insistence on freedom of expression, our vulnerability, our creativity), we benefit not only ourselves but society at large. We must keep reminding ourselves that we are a part of society at large, and only a part.
The original Greek games were accompanied by local showings of artistic merit: readings, songs, dance, sculpture, ceramics and painting. Gay Games I followed but on a far more modest scale. Time and financial constraints limited our efforts. Now however, with ample time to plan we expect to mount a full schedule of artistic activities — covering both the visual and performing arts — to run concurrently with Games II.