40th Anniversary History Series



Produced and curated by Federation of Gay Games Archivist Doug Litwin and FGG Honourary Life Member Shamey Cramer
with Ankush Gupta, FGG Officer of Communications

Links to Individual Posts:

Post 1 of 40 - 28 July - Introduction

Post 2 of 40 - 29 July - The Back Story: Gays and Sports post-Stonewall; Tom’s Big Idea

Post 3 of 40 - 30 July - Creating San Francisco Arts & Athletics: Laying the Foundations

Post 4 of 40 - 31 July - Efforts Outside of San Francisco

Post 5 of 40 - 1 August - The Pioneers

Post 6 of 40 - 2 August - Gay Games II

Post 7 of 40 - 3 AugustBuilding Blocks, Origin Stories, and Growing Pains

Post 8 of 40 - 4 August - Gay Games III

Post 9 of 40 - 5 August - Mending Fences, Global Expansion, and the HIV Waiver

Post 10 of 40 - 6 August - Gay Games IV

Post 11 of 40 - 7 AugustThe Big Event, Games Change The World, Scholarships

Post 12 of 40 - 8 AugustGay Games V


 

    

Post 1 of 40 - 28 July - Introduction

“Passing The Torch: Ruby Anniversary Edition” is a factual timeline of the major events that have been part of the Gay Games evolution since its inception.

12 of the 36 individuals contributing editorial content participated in the inaugural Gay Games in 1982, with several participating in all ten Gay Games; eight have served as FGG Board Co-Presidents; a world record holder, plus sports administrators from around the world sharing their stories and the impact the Gay Games have made on their lives and communities.

The series will run from 28 July 2022 - one month before the 40th anniversary of the original Opening Ceremony at San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium - through 5 September, the anniversary of Gay Games I Closing Ceremony. All postings will remain online and available for viewing at the FGG website.

* * *

Introduction

The inspiration for this project began over two years ago when planning for Gay Games 11: Hong Kong 2023 Cultural Festival got under way. Federation of Gay Games Officer of Culture Anthony Alston, in his work with Hong Kong 2023’s Director of Culture Shawn Griffin, put out a call to those who wished to help with the presentation of a photo exhibit using 40 iconic images from the first forty years of the Gay Games.

Doug Litwin, the FGG Officer of Marketing at the time had long been the keeper of the FGG’s digital archives, and was immediately tapped to be involved. Honorary Life Member Shamey Cramer, co-founder of Team Los Angeles and former Officer of Ceremonies (2011-2016) and Officer of Development (2015-2017), whose professional career involved curating and publicizing photo exhibits quickly volunteered.

Litwin and Cramer invested nearly 200 hours reviewing and curating the tens of thousands of images in the FGG digital archives. They met with the four volunteers from the Hong Kong Culture team to visualize and plan how the forty images and Gay Games history could be displayed in a gallery-type setting.

Once that was established, Litwin and Cramer realized the potential for creating a more definitive collective history of the Gay Games. In October 2020, they began their outreach efforts to engage more than three dozen former and current executives whose lives were impacted by their participation as athletes, artists, and advocates, as well as handling the business affairs of the quadrennial event.

We are grateful to the following individuals, whose memories and images will be shared over the next forty days:

  • Anthony Alston, Seattle USA, Officer of Culture
  • Noemi Arzate, Ciudad Mexico, MEX, Azkatl Mexico Diversidad AC 
  • James Ballard, Los Angeles USA, Gay Games IV World Record holder
  • Mauro Bordovsky, West Hollywood USA, Gay Games pioneer, Co-founder, West Hollywood Aquatics, Gay Games I - X participant
  • Stuart Borrie, Kuala Lumpur MAL, Exec. Director, Gay Games VI, Sydney 2002, Tom Waddell Award Recipient
  • Mark Brown, San Francisco USA, Gay Games pioneer, Co-founder, San Francisco Arts & Athletics
  • Hlengiwe Buthelezi, Durban RSA, Founder, The AfroGames, FGG Board member
  • Charlie Carson, New York USA, Gay Games I pioneer, former FGG Board member, Gay Games I - X participant
  • Shamey Cramer, Los Angeles USA Gay Games pioneer, Co-founder, Team Los Angeles, former FGG Board member
  • Kurt Dahl, Chicago USA, former Co-President
  • Gene Dermody, San Francisco USA, former Co-President, Tom Waddell Award recipient, Gay Games I - X participant
  • Joanie Evans, London UK, FGG Co-President
  • Jack Gonzalez, West Hollywood USA, Co-founder of Los Angeles Volleyball Association
  • Jim Hahn, San Francisco USA, Gay Games pioneer, Gay Games I - X participant
  • Richard Hogan, Sydney AU, former FGG Board member, Order of Australia Award Recipient
  • Susan Kennedy, Antioch USA, former FGG Co-President, Tom Waddell Award Recipient
  • Derek Liecty, Walnut Creek USA, Gay Games I Official, Tom Waddell Award Recipient
  • Doug Litwin, Sausalito USA, FGG Archivist, former FGG Board member
  • Susan McGrievy, Los Angeles USA, co-founder, Team Los Angeles, GGI Torchbearer
  • Laura Moore, NYC USA, Co-founder, International Gay Figure Skating Union
  • Oliver Murphy, Cork IRL, Gay Games I and II Decathlon champion
  • Brent Nicholson Earle, NYC USA, founder, Rainbow Run, the Memorial Moment, Tom Waddell Award Recipient
  • Doug Orloff, Bend USA, Gay Games pioneer, West Hollywood Aquatics Co-founder, 1983 Festival Games Swim Meet Director
  • Shiv Paul, London UK, former FGG Board member
  • Rick Peterson, Seattle USA, Gay Games pioneer, former FGG Co-President
  • Jeffry Pike, Boston USA, former FGG Board member, executor, Roy Coe Scholarship Fund
  • Emy Ritt, Paris FR, former FGG Co-President
  • Kate Rowe, Sydney AU, former FGG Board member
  • Tony Smith, Denver USA, former FGG Board member
  • Reggie Snowden, San Francisco USA, FGG Officer of Sport
  • Jean-Nickolaus Tretter, Minneapolis USA, Gay Games pioneer, Co-founder, Team Minnesota
  • Thomas F. Waddell, MD, San Francisco USA, Gay Games founder
  • Jessica Waddell Lewinstein Kopp, North Carolina USA
  • Sara Waddell Lewinstein, Oakland USA, San Francisco Arts & Athletics, Tom Waddell Award Recipient
  • Chris Van Scoyk, Los Angeles USA, Gay Games pioneer, West Hollywood Aquatics Co-founder
  • Kathleen Webster, Philadelphia USA, former Co-President
  • Ivan Yap, Kuala Lumpur MAL, FGG Officer of Membership, Director The Straits Games
  • Mary Zaller, Cleveland USA, Gay Games 9 Director of Development

* * *

Thomas F. Waddell, MD was born Thomas Flubacher in Paterson New Jersey on November 1, 1937. When his parents separated during his teen years, he went to live with his neighbors, Gene and Hazel Waddell, who would later adopt him.

  
(L) Tom Waddell (second from left) and (R) throwing the javelin at Springfield College, Massachusetts

Tom attended Springfield College in Massachusetts on a track scholarship, graduating with a degree in pre-medicine. His philosophical views were greatly influenced by his first lover-mentor, the avowed socialist, F. Engels Menaker, a man 30 years his senior. Tom and Enge, as he was known, met working at a children’s camp in western Massachusetts.

Waddell attended New Jersey College of Medicine and did his internship at Beth El Hospital in Brooklyn in 1965. He also travelled to Selma Alabama to participate in the Civil Rights Movement following the events of “Bloody Sunday” on March 7, 1965.

He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1966 as a preventive-medicine officer and paratrooper. When he protested his orders to be sent to Viet Nam, rather than be court-martialed, he was sent to train in the Decathlon for the 1968 Olympics to be held in Mexico City.

 
Tom Waddell at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics

1968 was a tumultuous year. There were student and other protests against the Viet Nam War and the draft; the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, which led to massive riots and destruction in most major American cities; and additional riots and arrests during the National Democratic Convention in Chicago that August.

In Mexico City, on October 2, just ten days before the start of the Olympic Games, Mexican troops opened fire on a student demonstration against the crime and poverty in their country at a time when massive funding was being channeled to produce the Olympic Games. 30 students died, with another 100 injured, and several hundred arrested.

Adding to the tension, many of the Black American Olympians threatened to boycott the Games to protest racism in the United States. Tom was supportive, and did what he could to assist them in their efforts to bring attention to their cause.

Tom would later state that when he walked into the Estadio Olímpico Universitario on October 12 for the Olympic Opening Ceremony , he was so overcome with emotion, that he wished everyone - not just elite athletes - could experience the rush of being cheered by thousands of people.


Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the medals stand following the 200-meter race

On Wednesday, October 16, 1968, Waddell’s U.S. Olympic teammates Tommie Smith and John Carlos captured first and third in the 200-meter sprint. When it came time for the medals ceremony, both Smith and Carlos were shoeless, with long black socks, representing the poverty and oppression of the black community. As the national anthem played, each man raised a black-gloved fist as a sign of Black Power. In addition, Smith, Carlos and Australian silver medallist Peter Norman (who would also be ostracized upon his return to Australia) all wore badges representing the Olympic Project for Human Rights, to bring awareness to racism in sports.

The United States Olympic Committee immediately issued an apology to the International Olympic Committee, and Smith and Carlos were promptly sent home.

It was at this point that Tom Waddell spoke out in the press in support of Smith and Carlos, with his comments being printed in the New York Times, The Washington Post, and other key international media. As the media storm continued, Tom competed in the first day of the two-day Decathlon event on Friday, October 18, setting three personal best records (long jump, high jump, shot put).

As he was preparing for the 110-meter hurdles, the first event the following morning, he was informed that Colonel F. Don Miller, the military liaison to the US Olympic Team, wanted Waddell to be court-martialed for his comments.


Colonel F. Donald Miller

Colonel Francis Donald Miller was born in Racine Wisconsin in 1920, a national collegiate boxing champion, and served 26 years in the U.S. Army, receiving the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts, among other honors, for his service.

Although nothing ever came of that threat, it did establish animosity between Waddell and Miller, who would become the Executive Director of the US Olympic Committee from 1973-1985.

Given that Tom was an active member of the U.S. military, he was unable to compete openly as a gay man at the 1968 Olympics. He was on course to participate in the 1972 U.S. Olympic trials when he blew out his knee doing the high jump at an event in Honolulu. Although his career as an elite athlete had come to an end, his work in the community was about to begin.


Tom Waddell & Charles Deaton, as featured in PEOPLE Magazine, 1976

Tom met and began a relationship with Charles Deaton in 1974. Two years later, they became the first gay couple featured in People magazine. The relationship lasted through 1981, when Tom took a job overseas in Dubai. But by 1980, despite his being out of the country on business much of the time, Waddell had already begun the process to launch the inaugural Gay Olympic Games.

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* * *


Post 2 of 40 - 29 July

“Passing The Torch: Ruby Anniversary Edition” is a factual timeline of the major events that have been part of the Gay Games evolution since its inception. The series will run from 28 July 2022 - one month before the 40th anniversary of the original Opening Ceremony at San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium - through 05 September, the anniversary of Gay Games I Closing Ceremony. All postings will remain online and available for viewing at the FGG website.

* * *

The Back Story: Gays and Sports post-Stonewall; Tom’s Big Idea

The initial concept to have a sports and cultural festival open to all was born when Dr. Thomas F. Waddell walked into the Stadium on 12 October for the Opening Ceremony of the Mexico City 1968 Summer Olympics as a member of the U.S. Decathlon team. As he would often state, he felt as if his heart was going to burst; and that it was something everyone should experience. In the end, it wasn’t about where he finished, but the fact he had participated and did his best.

The following year, five women, including “The Frontrunner” author-athlete-activist Patricia Nell Warren, registered and 'crashed’ the Boston Marathon. It wasn't until 1972 that women were finally allowed to compete openly.

     
Authors Patricia Nell Warren (L) and David Kopay (R)


David Kopay and Patricia Nell Warren, panelists during Gay Games 30th Anniversary event, 2012 in West Hollywood, CA

Patricia published “The Frontrunner” in 1974, which was followed in 1977 by the autobiography of retired NFL player Dave Kopay, who became the first professional athlete in the United States to come out.

In 1978, California had a statewide ballot known as the Briggs Initiative. It would have banned LGBTQ+ individuals from becoming teachers and educators. In mid-October, as the race was heating up, it was discovered that even if a fellow teacher was heterosexual, and knew of a fellow educator being lesbian or gay and didn’t report it, could also be terminated. Once that became known, Governor Jerry Brown and President Carter both came out against the initiative. Even former Governor Ronald Reagan was against it. Fortunately, it failed, but the campaign had left many people angry on the right. Three weeks later, Harvey Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were assassinated.

In 1979, the Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution failed to pass, just four states shy of the necessary thirty-eight to ratify. The deadline was extended to 1982, but no new states signed on.

Tom Waddell was named the Outstanding Male Athlete at the annual San Francisco Cable Car Awards in 1981. In his acceptance speech, he stood up and stated: “Wouldn't it be great if San Francisco hosted a Gay Olympics and invited the rest of the world?” He naturally received a rousing cheer, which also meant he needed to put his money where his mouth was – and that he did!

In 1981, the Family Protection Act was introduced in the U.S. Congress to strengthen “traditional family values.” It required the withdrawal of federal funds from any state program that provides contraceptive or abortion services or information to unwed minors without prior parental notification, or from any entity engaged in "advocating, promoting, or suggesting homosexuality, male or female, as a life style."' The bill also mandated the withdrawal of federal funds from any agency that excludes parents or unspecified "representatives of the community"' from participation in curriculum decisions relating to the study of religion; requires union membership of teachers; or prohibits "parental review of textbooks prior to their use in public school classrooms.”

These were some of the key touch points that set the stage for the emerging LGBTQ+ community as a political movement. Thus, when Tom announced there would be a Gay Olympics Games, one can only imagine how much of an affront that must have been to the United States Olympic Committee.

* * *


Gay Games Co-Founder Mark Brown

MARK BROWN: I got involved with sports in San Francisco after meeting my room-mate Paul Lynch in 1974. First, he introduced me to softball and I ended up becoming the league commissioner in 1978-79. I also served as co-chair for the first Gay Softball World Series.

Paul also got me involved with the gay bowling league, and I ended up serving as President of the Tavern Guild Bowling League at the Park Bowl on Haight Street. I had also won several Cable Car Awards for my column On The Mark which was published in the Bay Area Reporter.

Tom Waddell showed up one night at the Wednesday night bowling league during the 1979-80 season, wanting to join a team. Given all the administrative work I was handling for the league, I had Tom join our team, and I became the substitute bowler. We won a lot that year.

* * *


Gene Dermody on the wrestling mat at Gay Games I

GENE DERMODY: I have invested forty years of my life into the Gay Games as a wrestler, volunteer, a Federation of Gay Games (FGG) delegate, Officer of Sport, Officer of Technology, and twice-appointed Co-President. I have competed in all 10 Gay Games, have created and organized teams to go to Gay Games, and in 2014, was awarded the Tom Waddell Award, the FGG’s highest recognition for service to the Gay Games.

I had “come out” around the time of the Stonewall riots while at NYU. I lived in Manhattan, first in Greenwich Village, and then on the Upper West Side, where I was resigned to living in an LGBT culture I found devoid of good choices.

I had been a wrestler at NYU in the ‘60s, and a high school Chemistry/Physics teacher and wrestling coach in northern New Jersey in the ’70s. There were very few adult post-collegiate amateur wrestling opportunities. There were the handful of YMCAs like my NYC Lincoln Center McBurney, and some university teams like Olympian Dave Schultz’s at Stanford University.

LGBTQ+ athletes were routinely shadow banned for various reasons, depending upon where you lived. I was lucky to compete for an enlightened YMCA in the ‘70s. Unlike today where there are martial arts/grappling dojos on every corner, there were no opportunities for the vast majority of adult LGBTQ+ athletes. For the vast majority, not having a local practice option that in turn precluded competitions, was a vicious cycle, because it also impacted social connection opportunities.

This pent-up athletic/social frustration was quite real, and for LGBTQ+ athletes who built their social circles around carefully trusted connections, it was especially not healthy: isolation breeds depression. It is why sports are still so important a socializing factor, regardless of age.

* * *


Charlie Carson at Gay Games I, 1982

CHARLIE CARSON: Before Gay Games I, what we then called the gay and lesbian community had sports in larger cities like softball and bowling leagues.  Bar pastimes were activities where you could smoke and drink at the same time: darts; billiards.  There were a few volleyball groups in Europe and the U.S., and road running was taking off through the Front Runners.  But we had no Gay or Lesbian swim teams; no track meets; no wrestling; no cycling.  The Gay Games changed that, creating a network of an initial 1,300 participants who spurred the creation of hundreds of what are now the LGBTQ+ community’s long-established sports groups.  And lucky me – I was there!

* * *


Jack Gonzalez (center) and his Studio One volleyball team

JACK GONZALEZ:  I started playing "Gay" volleyball sometime in 1978. I had been playing Club Volleyball in Long Beach when I heard there was a gym in West Hollywood where mostly Gay people played (West Hollywood Park). After work on Thursday nights, I would drive up to play with "my people." The level of play was very mixed. Without sounding vain, I would say I was probably one of the better players (I was playing 4-5 hours a night 4 nights a week with the Club). It was such a wondrous and joyful feeling to be playing my favorite sport with others like me. I was one happy camper, and I was also making new friends as well.

After play in West Hollywood Rec Park, I would stay and "go dancing" at Studio One. Eventually the "good players" started to gravitate towards each other to play together. It was more fun (but not always fair) to have skilled players on your team. The following year a league was started. It was really a "Gay league," but we were trying to be inclusive, so all were invited. Teams were sponsored by local bars and businesses. A fan, Bob Jory, volunteered to be our manager. He went to see Scott Forbes from Studio One, which is how Studio One became our sponsor! Bob was not a player, but he enjoyed doing the legwork for the team. Studio One was our sponsor (great volleyball uniforms) until 1981. By then the Gay Games were scheduled to be in San Francisco the following year.

By 1982, I ran the team that represented Los Angeles in tournaments (Chicago, San Diego, Seattle, etc.). Back then, these tournaments required that a player had to play for the city they lived in [historic note: West Hollywood wasn’t incorporated until 1984]. Our team was the team to beat. We took first or sometimes second place in these tournaments. At the beginning this Gay volleyball organization was known as NAVA (North American Volleyball Assoc.). The G (for Gay was added) after a couple of years.

* * *

    
Jim Hahn (L, on left) (R, second from left) receiving his doubles medal at GGVIII (with partner Doug Litwin) and team bowling medal at GGIX (with teammates Glenn Normandin, Andrew Meagher, and Doug Litwin)

JAMES HAHN: My name is Jim Hahn and I live in San Mateo, California (about 35 km south of San Francisco). Doug Litwin and I have been bowling together for more than 20 years. I am one of the few people left who have participated in every Gay Games, beginning in 1982.

My participation started because of a gay students’ conference at the California State University at San Francisco that was held in the Spring of 1981. One of the group events at the conference was a meeting with Dr. Tom Waddell. There were about 6 to 8 of us in the room and it was an opportunity for Tom to share his vision of the Gay Olympics and encourage participation.

I was impressed with Tom's clarity of vision and doubtless enthusiasm that the Olympics were going to happen just as he had imagined them. I was listening closely and intently, because beyond the words that Tom shared with us, I could sense history in the making. By the time the meeting was over, I was certain that the Olympics were not going to be a “flash in the pan” where after one or perhaps two events, they would fade away.

No, this was the beginning of something bigger. Bigger than Tom, certainly bigger than me; bigger even than San Francisco itself. I knew that this was something I needed to be a part of. Indeed, the Gay Olympics became part of me.

As I left the meeting, my mind went into overdrive trying to figure out how a poor college student with no car was going to be able to make the leap into history. I had my bowling ball and access to mail and that was about it.

Several months later, I received my Gay Olympics application which went from envelope to typewriter in the blink of an eye. I also studied the requirements for participation. A shirt, preferably with my city of representation on the back and a Gay Olympics patch on the sleeve was required. Thankfully, hosted housing (Thank you JJ!) was offered and I was accepted. The next step was to buy a shirt, have it embroidered and arrange a ride from Davis to San Francisco (about 100 miles or 180 Km). The cost of the shirt with the embroidery was $28 or a little less than a month’s spending money for me.

Tom’s primary focus of the Gay Olympics was for participants to compete against other like-minded and like-talented individuals and teams and perform their personal best. The medals are certainly nice and worth striving for, but the fact that everyone receives a participation medal, made this very different from other sporting events. In fact, I have won several the years (five, I think), but I have a complete set of participation medals from Gay Games II (more on this name change later) through to Gay Games X. These mean more to me than the silvers and bronzes I have won.

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Post 3 of 40 - 30 July

Creating San Francisco Arts & Athletics: Laying the Foundations

The initial concept to have a sports and cultural festival open to all was born when Dr. Thomas F. Waddell walked into the Stadium on 12 October for the Opening Ceremony of the Mexico City 1968 Summer Olympics as a member of the U.S. Decathlon team. As he would often state, he felt as if his heart was going to burst; and that it was something everyone should experience. In the end, it wasn’t about where he finished, but the fact he had participated and did his best.

* * *


Mark Brown, back row at right. Chris Puccinelli, front row second from right

MARK BROWN: When Tom first approached me about a “Gay Olympics,” I said no. He approached me a year later, and given his ability to persuade and manipulate, I said yes – even though I wasn’t sure we could pull it off.

The original San Francisco Arts & Athletics Board included Tom as President, myself as Secretary-Treasurer, Hydie Downard and Chris Puccinelli as Vice Presidents, and Mike Evans as our lawyer. Paul Mart didn’t want to be on the Board, but he did a lot of international travel and got the word out for us that way.

Tom was often out of town on business, so the day-to-day operations fell to the others. We were the ones who had the connections in the community - Chris, through her Awards by Chris sports store; Hydie, through softball, the Imperial Court and her bartending job at Twin Peaks in the Castro; and I. By this time, I had also secured the offices, giving us a presence in the heart of the Castro.


Zohn Artman on Castro Street

Things changed once Zohn Arman got on the board. He was a promoter, so everything he did was from that point of view. He certainly knew how to promote Tom as the head of the Gay Games. I do think Tom had greater intentions beyond the Games, and Zohn was the type of person Tom needed to achieve those goals.

When they scheduled the press conference about the Gay Games with Mayor Dianne Feinstein, they requested for it to take place outside, on the City Hall steps. Feinstein, probably seeing Tom as a potential rival in the next Mayor’s race, chose to have it take place inside, in the rotunda.

* * *


GENE DERMODY: The Gay Games entered into a social vacuum with a very attractive and inclusive registration menu of sports. There were no qualifying events, no seeding, no health restrictions, no drug testing, and more categories across age, gender, weight, and skill level. The events were open to EVERYONE, and organizers made sure you were accommodated. Typical medal competition took a back seat to connection and inclusion. Add to that San Francisco was an LGBTQ+ dream destination, and it was perfect. Given that there was no internet, no email, and no mainstream media advertisements, people still came from all over the world, thanks to the word-of-mouth travel promotion by Gay Games pioneers such as Paul Mart.

* * *

The Red Book


Jean Nickolaus Tretter in 1983

JEAN-NICKOLAUS TRETTER: Team Minnesota started organizing in the Fall of 1981. In the January 1982 newsletter published by San Francisco Arts & Athletics, there was a notice for those wishing to help organize an international governing body to perpetuate the Gay Olympic Games Movement, including selecting where the event would be held each quadrennial. I answered that notice and began a long-distance working relationship with Tom Waddell.

Early in 1982, Tom asked me to contact all the various national sports governing bodies in order to develop rules and regulations for the Gay Olympics. With only a telephone and the U.S. postal service as my tools of access, I was able to secure the various rules from each sport’s governing body, as well as additional guidelines from the United States Olympic Committee.

I took each set of rules and did as minor an adaptation as possible on each of them, in order to be more accommodating, particularly regarding gender identity. This initial collection of rules and regulations became known as the Gay Games Red Book, which has grown, expanded, and adapted over the years, when necessary.

The same January 1982 news bulletin also mentioned a national torch relay. The only problem was, they only had relays scheduled on either coast, with nothing established across the Midwest or Rocky Mountain states. But that’s another story.

* * *


Left to right: Founders Mark Brown, Tom Waddell, Harriman Thatcher, Paul Mart

GENE DERMODY: In 1988, about eighteen months prior to the Vancouver Gay Games III Opening Ceremony, in frustration with the total lack of confirmed information necessary for me to promote wrestling, I had written a scathing letter to the editor to the “Village Voice” in New York City. Specifically, Vancouver organizers had not applied for a Canadian Wrestling Event Sanction. Wrestling had to be sanctioned in order to get insurance and officials. Given the San Francisco history, it should have been an easy fix. But there was resistance with the Vancouver organizers. However, to not continue this sanctioning was financially, politically, and operationally unacceptable; the wrestlers would simply not register. Vancouver also had not reserved a gymnasium and had not acquired wrestling mats. This was resolved when we arrived after intense negotiations and resources to rent (and move) the mats from Simon Fraser University.

Vancouver was operationally overwhelmed. Team NY’s FGG delegate, Physique champion Tom Cracovia, and I met during the week in Vancouver to discuss the complaints that were being directed at us as Gay Games sport organizers. What emerged was a plan to convince the FGG to codify and require the Sports Requirements for a Gay Games Host (the eventual “Red Book”). We would then lobby the LGBTQ+ sport governing bodies before the 1991 FGG Meeting, and at least make people aware of the need.

There actually was FGG resistance to having the LGBTQ+ Sports Governing Bodies making demands of the Host without it being in the License Agreement. Gay Games pioneer and LGBTQ+ activist, Rikki Streicher, specifically objected to emulating the non-Inclusive Olympics Sport Policies of the USOC. In fact, there was even resistance to the FGG taking on more LGBTQ+ sports organizations as members for the same reason; the anti USOC furor was still that strong.

At the 1992 FGG Meeting our efforts with getting the FGG to approve a Required Code of Gay Games Sport Rules (the “Red Book”) was beginning to gather steam. LGBTQ+ sport governing bodies for Aquatics, Tennis, Bowling, Martial Arts, Wrestling, et al just went ahead and published their own Championship Rules, and received good operational cooperation from the Gay Games IV organizing committee.

However, it would take the strong leadership of two new FGG Delegates to manage the projects for a better ProForma License Agreement with an integrated Required Code of Athletic Rules (“Red Book”) to guide the Hosts.

Teresa Galetti of Philadelphia brought an expertise to Sports Committee from Martial Arts for resolving so many issues where Gay Games values were in conflict with standard sports sanctioning requirements at that time. It was exactly what Rikki Streicher had recommended.

Sydney Australia’s Richard Cobden brought an extraordinary international legal perspective to the License Agreement project from his intellectual property & copyright expertise before the Australian Supreme Court. He created the framework for legally integrating the “Red Books” into the ProForma License Agreement.

Their joint efforts made this new “Red Book” contractually enforceable with the Host within the License Agreement. It was a monumental task that took over a year. It was overwhelmingly approved and ready for the 2002 Sydney cycle and the 2006 Gay Games cycle that saw the Montreal / GLISA / Chicago drama. The “Red Book” was designed to be a work in progress, and constantly enhanced as issues like gender identity, age, disability inclusion, drug testing, and overall mission adherence kept resurfacing.

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Post 4 of 40 - 31 July - Efforts Outside of San Francisco

“Passing The Torch: Ruby Anniversary Edition” is a factual timeline of the major events that have been part of the Gay Games evolution since its inception. The series will run from 28 July 2022 - one month before the 40th anniversary of the original Opening Ceremony at San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium - through 05 September, the anniversary of Gay Games I Closing Ceremony. All postings will remain online and available for viewing at the FGG website.

* * *


Chris Van Scoyk at Gay Games II, 1986

CHRIS VAN SCOYK: I first heard about the Gay Games, then called the Gay Olympic Games, by reading an article by Rick Bohner in Frontiers Magazine. It said a swim team was being formed to compete in San Francisco. Those interested should meet at Venice Beach for more information. I met Rick at the beach and soon began workouts led by Michael Roth. We only had a few weeks to prepare, and it was certainly not easy to get back in shape; but we did it.

* * *


Charlie Carson on medals stand at GGI, 1982

CHARLIE CARSON: I’m age 27 and in my second season with the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus (NYCGMC). I’ve been tapped to lead NYCGMC’s committee organizing the first national festival for the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses (GALA), scheduled for September 1983, so I am up to my eyeballs in that. Recently I’ve been reading Tales of the City, and chorus friends have told me I must go to San Francisco someday.

News about a “Gay Olympic Games” is making its way around the world. This seems like a good excuse for a first San Francisco trip. Plus, I’d thought my swimming days were over when I moved to New York, so this spurs me to get back in the water. I send off for the registration package and decide to do it. The swimming plans are odd. Age groups are not the usual five-year divisions used in Masters swimming, and the schedule lists a 400 yd. Backstroke and 400 yd. Butterfly. Write to Sports Chair Mark Brown in mid-April to say the 400 yd. Butterfly isn’t really something swimmers do.

Late July / Early August 1982 – New swimming schedule mailed to participants has corrected the events to standard distances – I wasn’t the only one to question it – but it’s still an oddball schedule with two days of prelims followed by two nights of finals.  There’s a rule: Only one swimmer per age group from a city. Don’t know any other swimmers from New York so, what the heck, I sign up for multiple events.

Wednesday, August 18 – Games organizers help us network by sharing contact information among participants within cities. I meet diver Jeff Gordon at 5:30pm to train together at NYU. Jeff is very good! We head from there to join NY Front Runners George Waffle and Marty King for hour-long “Gay Rap” on WBAI radio about the Games with a call-in from co-founder Tom Waddell. The radio show fires us up that much more, and Jeff and I train at NYU several more times over the next week.

* * *


Shamey Cramer (lower left) with members of the 1984 Christopher Street West LA Pride Entertainment Committee

SHAMEY CRAMER: Saturday, 15 May 1982 started out like any other day. I took the bus into West Hollywood to go shopping at International Male on Santa Monica Blvd. - the furthest point west in the area of West Hollywood known as “Boystown.”

After making a purchase to complete my latest ensemble, I headed into the Mother Lode, a gay bar two blocks east. I ordered a Long Island Iced Tea, my preferred drink at the time, and headed toward the back. I needed to use the bathroom and a pay phone.


The Gay Games I poster referenced in the following paragraph

About halfway down the very short hallway, I noticed a poster to the right. It has three figures on it, and was announcing the first-ever Gay Olympic Games, to take place in San Francisco from August 28 through September 5, Labour Day weekend. I felt a strange calm come over me, and knew in that instant: my calling had found me.

As I stood there, I could envision so many things: establishing precedent and protocol, creating an international governing body and local teams, and using this event as a focal point for community organizing and unification.

I had been a foreign exchange student in high school and helped my Mom write, produce, and direct the local Miss America Pageant in my teens. This combined my love for pageantry, international relations and the Olympics, but with an added bonus I had never envisioned before: hosted by the lesbian and gay community.

I immediately wrote down the contact information for San Francisco Arts & Athletics, the organization producing the event. In those days, a mailing address and telephone number was all one could expect. And more often than not, the mailing address was a postal box or mailing service, as a way to protect the recipient from potential homophobic attacks.

The fact someone even called an event the Gay Olympics was truly audacious. This was just fifteen years after Kathryn Switzer became the first woman to run illegally in the Boston Marathon of 1967, and the Olympics were still two years away from having their first Women's Marathon.

That following Monday, I called the number and spoke with Mark Brown, the host organization’s board member who was running operations for Dr. Waddell. The project had been up and running for six months, but hit a snag when the U.S. Olympic Committee sent a cease and desist letter for use of the word “Olympic,” which was their protected trademark. He was concerned about how the USOC was going to proceed, but as it stood, it was a wait-and-see kind of situation, given all the other events and organizations that had used the word without recrimination. But to be safe, he and the others also referred to it as the Gay Athletic Games.

During our conversation, I informed him of my family’s background working in sports administration, and my desire to help create a strong and unified Team Los Angeles. He gave me the contact information for U.S. Olympic swimmer Susan McGreivy, the famed, openly lesbian civil rights attorney based in Los Angeles. Tom had asked her to run the team, so I gave her a call and we scheduled a time to meet.

  
(L) Susan McGrievy in the pool, 1956; (R) Susan's Olympic swimming team at Melbourne Olympics, 1956, Susan is in bottom row at far left)

In 1955, Susan competed as a 15-year-old high school student at the Amateur Athletic Union’s indoor meet, winning the 250 and 500 yard freestyles; and a bronze medal in the 400 free at the 1955 Pan American Games. The following year, she competed at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne Australia.

Susan later attended Northwestern University, became a teacher in California, briefly coached the Thailand swim team, volunteered with the Peace Corps, and then married, raising two children before coming out. She graduated from law school in 1977 and became attorney for the Gay Community Services Center of Hollywood (later known as the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center), which led to her becoming a civil rights attorney for the Southern California American Civil Liberties Union, with a focus on gay and lesbian rights. She later represented the ACLU in cases against the Boy Scouts of America, and in defense of the Norton Sound Eight.

I met Susan the night of June 1 at the Melting Pot Cafe located at the west end of Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood, by Doheny Drive. It was a typical 1970s cafe, with lots of dark wood interior, potted plants, and hanging ferns. We both had a Chef’s Salad.

Susan filled me in on where things were most likely going to go with the potential lawsuit, and the legal arguments they (SFAA) had that were favorable to their position. However, the USOC was a very powerful organization, and we were already seeing the rise of fundamental religious leaders becoming more engaged in American politics.

Add to that the initial reports of the AIDS epidemic, and a majority of queer folk still needed to remain silent and hidden in order to survive.

After sharing a few of my ideas of how I envisioned putting Team Los Angeles together, I asked what I could do to help. She pulled out the papers with names and addresses of all those who had either registered or reached out to her or the San Francisco office.


Susan McGrievy & Shamey Cramer, 2013

As she handed over the documents, she said: “Here ya go. They’re all yours.” When I asked about meeting again, she responded: “Between my regular practice, and the possibility of a lawsuit over this, I don’t have time to organize a team. You’d be doing me a great favor if you just ran the whole thing.”

And that’s how Team Los Angeles was officially launched on June 1, 1982. Eighty-eight days later, one hundred and forty seven athletes proudly marched into Kezar Stadium behind the Los Angeles banner, with Shelley Farber, who later that week captured medals in the women’s marathon and swimming, carrying the city flag. We were the largest traveling contingent, representing one out of every nine athletes, and were accompanied by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, and the Great American Yankee Freedom Band of Los Angeles.


George Frenn (L) and Susan McGrievy (R) lighting the cauldron at Gay Games I Opening Ceremony  (Photo: Lisa Kanemoto)

And best of all, it was Susan and her fellow Olympian George Frenn, a community ally and friend of Dr. Waddell’s who had grown up in greater Los Angeles, chosen to be the final torchbearers of the cross-country relay and light the cauldron that chilly afternoon to officially open the inaugural Gay Games.

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1982 Gay Games I swimmers:

Back Row (L-R): Richard Hunter, Neil Fenn, Jeff Shotwell, Mauro Bordovsky (lavender sweater), Doug Orloff, Steve Smetzer, Ric Bohner, Mike Wallace;
Middle Row: Frank Maciejewski; 

Front Row: Charlie Carson, Jeff Gordon, Ron Kirchhoff, Mark Wussler

MAURO BORDOVSKY: I had arrived in the U.S. from Brazil four years prior to the first Gay Games. I swam some on my own and at some colleges I attended in Los Angeles, but had not competed for a while before competing in Gay Games I. I have participated, and medaled, in all 10 Gay Games, thus far.

I was at Venice Beach where Richard Hunter and Rick Bohner were recruiting swimmers to form a team to participate in Gay Games I. We met, talked, and I agreed to join the plans, even after an approximate two-year hiatus from swimming. I started training as frequently as practice times were available in preparation for the Games.

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Doug Orloff (at right in striped Speedo) at Gay Games I

DOUG ORLOFF: The month leading up to and including Gay Games I was one of the highlights of my life and I will always be grateful for being allowed to participate in the first international gay sporting event.

I heard about the “Gay Olympics” in the local gay newspapers. The business owners in West Hollywood had sponsored a swimming race at the park pool in 1981. It was a timed long distance swim and a very local event. I believe it was a 30-minute swim and whoever did the most yards won. I was sponsored by a clothing store that was next to The Revolver on Santa Monica Boulevard. I won the race and they gave me a trophy. I still have it in a box somewhere. The clothing store was proud of sponsoring the winner and did a big photo of me in my Speedo in their front window. When Gay Games I was announced, the guys that owned the store told me I should participate.

We practiced every day under Michael Roth’s coaching for a month to prepare. A lot of us were out of shape after having left swimming in college and high school. I remember the first day of practice where Richard Hunter and Ric Bohner introduced us all and told us about the San Francisco event. We became a team literally overnight and it was like nothing else in the world – to all of a sudden be on a swim team with GAY men. And to be open and unafraid - well it was thrilling.

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Post 5 of 40 - 1 August - The Pioneers

“Passing The Torch: Ruby Anniversary Edition” is a factual timeline of the major events that have been part of the Gay Games evolution since its inception. The series will run from 28 July 2022 - one month before the 40th anniversary of the original Opening Ceremony at San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium - through 05 September, the anniversary of Gay Games I Closing Ceremony. All postings will remain online and available for viewing at the FGG website.

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Doug Litwin (left) with Racquetball doubles partner Scott Miller at Gay Games IV in 1994

DOUG LITWIN: Despite my long history with the Gay Games, it still feels like I was a bit of a late arriver. I was living in San Francisco at the time of Gay Games I, having moved there in 1978, just a few months before the City Hall assassinations of Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. At that point, I was not fully engaged in the local gay community, and as such, I honestly was not even aware that this event was happening. I know… this might be hard to believe, but Gay Games I was a relatively small event. I regret not participating in 1982, as I could have met Tom Waddell and some of the other founders of this life-changing event.

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L to R: Rand Wiseman-Curtright, Shamey Cramer, Phil Manciero, Chair John Logan, Christopher Street West L.A. Pride Sports Committee, 1984

SHAMEY CRAMER: The week of Gay Games I was the first time the various out-of-town team organizers had the chance to meet and interact. Beginning in October 1982, and continuing through 1985, ten co-chairs from across North America joined with Tom Waddell to engage in monthly conference calls. These individuals from Boston, Minnesota, Los Angeles, Toronto, and Vancouver created the International Gay Olympic Association (IGOA), an ad-hoc committee that Tom called for the creation of in the January 1982 Gay Olympic Games newsletter.

   
Two newspaper articles regarding the formation of the IGOA

The IGOA helped establish goals, philosophies, and benchmarks for the Gay Games; discussed how to go about creating a process to select future host cities; and developed and produced activities outside of the quadrennial event, which would once again be hosted by San Francisco for Gay Games II. With no precedent to guide them, Team Minnesota created a bid document to host a Lesbian and Gay Winter Olympic Games in January 1986, and published the quarterly Gay BLEEP Games newsletter; Team Los Angeles produced The Festival Games (1983-85), the first annual multi-sport festival hosted by the LGBTQ+ community; and representatives from Team Vancouver began separate discussions with Tom, which led to them hosting Gay Games III.

At the same time, many of the participants began to incorporate their own sports teams; and athletes and musicians created communication networks for those within their discipline. The 32 swimmers from Team Los Angeles created the West Hollywood Swim Club in October 1982, becoming the first U.S. Masters swim club whose mission focused on the inclusion of LGBTQ+ athletes and their allies; and seven bands met in Chicago to create their consortium, originally called Lesbian & Gay Bands of America and now known as Pride Bands Alliance.

San Francisco Arts & Athletics hosted the first Co-Chairs gathering in April 1983, which was attended by the IGOA representatives and other interested parties, including Peter Todd from Team Sydney. An update was given on the status of the lawsuit over the use of the word “Olympic,” with a robust discussion following as to what the name of the event should be called, and whether the word “Lesbian” should be added to the title. There was also a discussion on whether or not Gay Games II should even take place, given the growing AIDS crisis; and if so, whether or not a conference aspect should be added to discuss AIDS and other critical issues facing the community.

It was also at this meeting where Team Minnesota presented their Winter Games bid proposal, which secured the support of SFAA; and was selected to host a second Co-Chairs conference in January 1984. That way, team organizers could experience Minnesota during their annual Winterfest, which would coincide with the presentation of the Lesbian & Gay Winter Olympic Games two years hence.

Although more than a dozen representatives attended the 1984 co-chairs conference the following January in the Twin Cities, The Winter Games were not produced, given the struggle to secure resources while the community grappled with the darkest days of the AIDS crisis.

In 1985, I was informed I tested positive to the AIDS virus (a year before it became known as HIV), and told I had six months to two years to live – the standard prognosis at that time. I subsequently dropped out of everything and moved back to Chicago to be closer to my family, while still keeping my diagnosis a secret from any and everyone, including my closest friends and family.

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Stacy van Scoyk (daughter of WH2O co-founder Chris van Scoyk) in front of the swimmers competing at the June 1983 Festival Games swim tournament at Beverly Hills High School. Stacy loved going to swim meets, and was considered the team's #1 Fan. When Stacy died in a 1992 auto accident, WH2O planted 18 Chinese Flame trees, in remembrance of her 18 years of life.

DOUG ORLOFF: After Gay Games I, a bunch of us wanted to keep that spirit going and we created the West Hollywood Masters Swim Team. The first few years, we had between 25-30 people on the team. Mark Chatfield was our coach. Some of the team had been on the LA team at GGI, and some were new. The first team had people who remained friends for years: Ron, Bill, Mike, Frank, Mark, Chris, Jim, Neal, Barry, Alan and many more. Raphael was the first president of the team and its prime mover. The first two years, I was the Vice President. We worked out together, had meals and social events, and looked after one another. There were tough times, too. When AIDS entered our lives, the pool we worked out in kicked us out because the neighborhood was sure we were going to give their kids AIDS. We eventually ended up at Beverly Hills High School.

Another remarkable event was the first Festival Games sports festival in June 1983, an official LA Pride event that happened annually between Gay Games I and Gay Games II. Ron and I chaired the swim meet at Beverly Hills High School, working with Rand Wiseman-Curtright, Phil Manciero, and Shamey Cramer from the Christopher Street West Sports Committee. We had swimmers from all over the country show up, including Hal Herkenhoff, who served as the Tournament Director for all of Gay Games II Aquatics.

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Following is a transcript of comments Dr. Waddell made at the April 1983 town hall meeting that gathered individuals from San Francisco Arts & Athletics, the International Gay Olympic Association, and other team co-chairs and community members to discuss the future of the Gay Games Movement.


Tom Waddell in the Gay Games I office, 1982

TOM WADDELL: The first Games were a surprise to everyone. In spite of a relatively poor turnout, they were still successful in many ways. They demonstrated that a large number of Gay men and women participated admirably in a variety of individual and organized athletics. The Games demonstrated also that competition need not be an aggressive or threatening activity, but that it can be friendly, cooperative, and self-fulfilling.

The Games are successful in that they provided a great sense of unity and self-esteem. They were typified by serious but fun-loving men and women devoid all traditional stereotypes. For the week of the Games, we were who we said we were: athletes who happened to be Gay. The Games were successful in providing us with a sense of identity and a degree of visibility in a way which we've never experienced before.

And finally, to the astonishment of some cynics, we finished in the black. I view the success mostly in a way I call internal. And for that I mean, the impact was predominately in our own communities. Because of the enormous prejudice against Gay people as being legitimated, productive members of society and fully capable of athletic endeavor the Games were virtually invisible to the external world.

The only reaction to the Games outside of our communities came as a result of institutionalized homophobia brought to the event by the powerful and prestigious United States Olympic Committee. But, even in that instance their mockery of fair play and their Neanderthal attitude served us in no small way. While the general public may not have rallied to witness the Games they at least acknowledged the plight of the underdog.

We feel strongly, our committee, that there should be a Gay Games II, but we feel just as strong]y that we maintain a sound philosophy, that we continue the Games as an event that gives something new and something valuable and something worth teaching.

The first Games brought Gay athletes out of their closets, clearly an act of courage for the 1,300 men and women who participated in them. There have been Gay sports organizations for years and suddenly they are erupting into regional and national and even international competitions.

Plans for a Pan American Games and a Winter Gay Games are in progress. It’s wonderful to see. But sooner, rather than later, many of these competitions will have as a goal the reward of winning for the sake of supremacy of one group over another. That seems to be an inherent aspect of western culture. But I would hope that the Gay Games would continue to be not an event of becoming the best but to provide equal opportunity for everyone to do their best, for the sheer joy and hell of it. That's what makes these Games different from any other.

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Oliver Murphy, decathlete at Gay Games I in 1982

OLIVER MURPHY:  Oliver Murphy from Cork, Ireland captured the Gold Medal at Gay Games I in the Decathlon. He also lost his job as a schoolteacher as a result of his decision to be an out, gay athlete.

The following Letter to the Editor from Mr. Murphy in 1986 to OUT Magazine was in reference to the ban many South Africans faced in international competition at that time as a result of their government’s continued perpetuation and support of apartheid.

Mr. Murphy successfully defended his Decathlon title at Gay Games II, but subsequently lost his battle to AIDS.

“Irish Participation at Gay Games II”

Dear OUT: Here Irish Wit is seen. We boycott Gay Olympics II when we have no team. (With apologies to the Dean…) Well, despite the best efforts of many, both outside and unfortunately within the gay community, to ensure the games would not take place, I am happy to be able to report that as of closing date 1st June, almost 3,700 athletes had signified their intention to compete, at an almost three-fold increase on the numbers participating in Gay Games I.

Also, I personally am boycotting the boycott so there will be an Irish team. Considering the status of civil rights for gay men in Ireland I find it absurd to even consider a boycott on such spurious grounds. I had to resign from my job to compete in the first games so I am all too familiar with Apartheid “Irish-style” as it relates to gays and the jobs they may perform.

Early season competitions indicate I am in good shape to defend my Decathlon title on 15 and 16 August. I shall also be competing in the high-jump and javelin competitions.

The Games will run from Saturday 9 August to Sunday 17 August at various venues in the greater San Francisco area and have again generated tremendous enthusiasm and excitement. Though most competitors will come from within the U.S., large contingents are expected from Canada and Australia. Attendance from Europe is again disappointing. Ironically the last Newsletter of the organizing committee bore the headline “Come out and Play.”

I suppose the lesson here is that one must come out first and this is always a problem. A Dutch soccer team in the last Gay Games dwindled to one player (who guested with the San Francisco team) as the team members realized that participation would mean publicity and how many of us are really that much OUT of the closet.

Yours sincerely, Oliver Murphy

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MAURO BORDOVSKY: Gay Games I imposed a limit on the number of swimmers per team. We had so many swimmers recruited and interested in participating at Gay Games I that we created three teams: Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, and Santa Monica. It was after our successful and fun performances at GGI that we realized what we had, decided to continue as a team, and formed West Hollywood Swim Club. Later, we renamed the Club West Hollywood Aquatics to incorporate Water Polo, Diving, and other aquatic sports.

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Post 6 of 40 - 2 August - Gay Games II

9 - 17 August, 1986; 3,500 participants; San Francisco, CA USA


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Opening Ceremony, Gay Games II, 1986

To see video of Executive Director Shawn Kelly speaking at the Closing Ceremony, click HERE

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Australian bowlers at Gay Games II, 1986

DOUG LITWIN: In the lead up to GGII, there was huge excitement in the bowling leagues. At the time, only one team could represent each city. We had a very spirited local tournament to determine which team would officially represent San Francisco. My team lost, so our team entered Gay Games II as representing McKees Rocks, PA, the hometown of my teammate, the late Bill Gaul. We didn’t win a medal but the experience was amazing.

  

Left: Bands ready to perform at Opening Ceremony. Right: Trapeze performing above the Band at the "Greatest of Ease" concert

I also performed with more than 150 band mates at the Opening Ceremony, a mid-week parade, a sold-out circus-themed concert at elegant Davies Symphony Hall, one or two sporting events, and the Closing Ceremony. An indelible memory was being on stage dressed as a circus clown while a hunky man performed on a trapeze overhead… with no net!

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Left: Jeffry Pike swimming at Gay Games II. Photo: Roy Coe, taken just before Jeffry's bronze medal swim
Center: Jeffry Pike and Patrick Kelly performing "Marsupials" (choreographed by Alvin Mayes) at the Gay Games II - Festival of the Arts, August 1986.). Photo; Roy Coe
Right: Gay Games II Closing ceremony with Team Boston pal, Amanda

JEFFRY PIKE: When I opened my front door in Somerville, Massachusetts, US, in June 1986, I immediately felt that I had met a kindred spirit. Roy Muir Coe had travelled from San Francisco to interview me for his book, A Sense of Pride: The Story of Gay Games II.


Roy Coe in 1998

In the six years that I knew Roy, before his death in 1992, and the thirty years since, I have confirmed that what drew Roy and me together was our shared search to understand ourselves and our belief in the life changing power of the Gay Games. By inviting each person to tell their story, we all find camaraderie within LGBTQ+ athletics and arts communities, and beyond. In the spirit of A Sense of Pride, for which Roy invited me to tell a bit of my story, in this essay, I will tell a small bit of Roy’s story and introduce some of the people touched by his generosity.


Roy Coe's book (available on Amazon.com)

“In the fall of 1984, I walked into San Francisco Arts and Athletics’ dusty office located in the Pride Center, a former convent which had been converted by the city into offices for Gay Community groups,” wrote Roy in A Sense of Pride. He volunteered to be Communications Director for GGII.

At the same time that Roy worked as Communications Director, he began interviewing athletes and an artist intending to participate in Gay Games II - San Francisco for a book to illuminate their goals and aspirations. In the book, Roy also chronicled, from start to finish, Gay Games II and included a history of Gay Games I - San Francisco (1982). In order to do all this, Roy took a two-year sabbatical from his day job as a computer systems manager. He devoted everything to the Games.


Roy Coe at Gay Games II, 1986

In the introduction to A Sense of Pride, Roy’s motivation for both volunteering for the Gay Games II organization and seeking out other participants’ stories becomes clear. Roy “drew personal inspiration and clarity of purpose” from one particular interviewee’s observations of his own community in Atlanta, Georgia, US.

Roy elaborated, “Simply stated, athletics in the gay community offer hope, spirit, and camaraderie to all who participate. And all are welcome. ... This spirited week (of Gay Games II) represents the culmination of my own desire for community involvement and more positive self-image. I have met hundreds of athletes with similar dreams.”

In Roy’s documenting various details that the organizers faced leading up to the GGII, he reveals that he also became part of a vital close-knit, dedicated team that found solutions as each challenge appeared.

Seemingly tireless, Roy also found time to compete in Track and Field events at the Games and be part of a silver medal winning 4x100 relay team.

After Gay Games II and the publishing of A Sense of Pride, Roy’s involvement in the Gay Games changed to being a supporter of participants and patron of the Cultural Festival of the Games.

When I was invited to be a charter member of the Federation of Gay Games in 1989, Roy, with his experience from GG II, happily became my sounding board and source for perspective on the politics around and historical details related to various Gay Games topics.

When Roy died in 1992, it was revealed that he intended to continue supporting the Games through the endowment of the Roy M. Coe Scholarship Fund. His goal was to ensure that others would be able to attend the Games. He specifically wanted funds to cover travel expenses to bring first-time participants from continents other than the host city’s continent.

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JACK GONZALEZ: Four years later, San Francisco is again the host for Gay Games II. So much seems to have happened in those four years. The mood, while still one of excitement and high energy, is somewhat muted, because no matter how joyous an event we are there for – one cannot forget the epidemic, which in those four years took so many of our friends and loved ones. The Castro District, which is the heart of the Gay community, was still buzzing with multitudes of people (tons of restaurants & bars there). Still buzzing with activity - but not like it was four years prior. It felt like some of the puzzle pieces were missing. 

But as they say: the show must go on. This time around, the Los Angeles contingent was better prepared. We were (almost) all wearing an actual team uniform for Opening Ceremony. I requested housing and was set up to stay in the Twin Peaks area. My host, who lived alone, was a very nice and handsome man. He was sick with AIDS. A few years earlier, I may have felt unsafe, but by then, most of us were aware of how the disease spreads, and conducted ourselves accordingly. One evening after tournament play, while sitting around chatting with my host, he asked me if I would object to ‘holding him’. I was a bit taken aback. It did not take me long to understand that he had no human contact with anyone and was very lonely. I did not mind at all - hugging him tight and letting him feel my warmth and humanity.


Volleyball at Gay Games II, 1986

For these Games, I did not put together my own team (volleyball). I played on a friend’s team. I was familiar and friendly with all of my new teammates. By this time, most of the other cities (states) had formed more competitive teams, so we were not favored to win as we were previously. Again, San Francisco did not disappoint with their excellent organizing skills. The facilities, although not located in the Gay Ghetto, were excellent. The tournament itself was well run. I have very little memories of the competition itself. This is most likely due to not winning. My brain has its own agenda as to what it sees as worth remembering. Or so it seems.

I wish I had better memories of these Games. I do recall that although a joyous event for many, there was also the underlying fact that many of us had lost friends... and it wasn’t over. The disease continued to take more of us.

* * *


Jim Hahn (at right in blue shirt) at Gay Games II bowling venue 1986

JAMES HAHN: In Gay Games II, I came as close to winning a team medal as I’d ever come. Our team from San Jose, California made it to the second round of competition and did well coming in 5th. We won the first game of the stepladder finals leaving us just one game to win in order to qualify for a medal. Unfortunately, our best bowler, bowled nearly 80 pins under his average and we missed out. He was so broken-hearted, he went back to his hotel room and cried. He passed away from AIDS about a year later. This proved to be the best competition in bowling, before or since.

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RICK PETERSON:

Swimming for Our Lives -
Gay Games Changed My Life and the Life of our Global Gay Community Forever


Rick Peterson at open water swimming event, 2022

I first heard about Gay Games after Dana Cox, a good friend in my hometown of Seattle, enthused at a dinner party that he’d just returned from the first Gay Games in San Francisco with two gold medals for swimming the 50-yard and 100-yard breaststroke. I was impressed and surprised! I didn’t know that side of Dana! I didn’t realize he swam. I didn’t know about Gay Games, had never heard of it.

Actually, at that time in 1982, I had no perception of any opportunity to participate in Seattle’s emerging gay community as a swimmer or athlete (other than bowling and softball at the time, plus a little volleyball), let alone anything as fantastic-sounding as what Dana described— entering Kezar Stadium along with about 1,500 other LGBTQ+ athletes and artists at the Opening Ceremonies of Gay Games and being serenaded by Tina Turner! I think Dana was the only swimmer from Seattle. I was fascinated.


Rick Peterson, Washington State University swimmer

In my “past life” from the time I was ten years old until May 1973 when I graduated from university, I’d been a swimmer. Big time. I was a champion high school swimmer, followed by four varsity years as a NCAA division one athlete on scholarship at Washington State University. But after I graduated, I thought I would never seriously swim again and I was okay with that.

And that’s pretty much what happened. Instead of continuing to “be a swimmer,” I drove to San Francisco cold-turkey from Bellingham, a small town near the Canadian border where I’d grown up as kid, with everything I owned crammed in the car. As I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, I had no idea I’d landed in an epicenter of emerging Gay Liberation. That was September 1973, just after I’d turned 22.

I kissed swimming goodbye, diving full speed into a blistering decade of coming out, being in a relationship, dancing and having fun at discos, working for the Sierra Club national headquarters, enjoying the unique bliss of being young, healthy and gay in and around the San Francisco mecca. I continued to think of myself as “an athlete” in some sense, at least inwardly. My world view continued to be heavily influenced by years of training as a swimmer, being a part of a team, putting in the effort, honing, self-discipline, being brave enough to put yourself out there to participate and compete at your best, being coachable, being persistent, discovering you can be really good at something if you apply yourself.

Nearly a decade later, after Dana surprised me with his story about participating in the first Gay Games, I started to think about dipping my toe in a pool for the first time since hanging up my suit in 1973, this time at a weekly lap swim at Queen Anne pool in Seattle known unofficially as “gay swim night.” Nothing organized. No-one really competing, mostly just guys and a few gals enjoying staying in shape and getting the “swimmer’s high” of a good self-imposed hour-long workout in a lane you shared with other gay people you did not know until then. New acquaintances! New friends! Swimming feels great! It was so fun to be back in the water—especially in a way that felt safe and welcoming, sharing the magic of gliding through water with kindred spirits.


Orca Swim Club logo

I and a few others, including Dana and John Horman, another friend I’d made through “gay swim night,” decided to form a “gay swim team” for Seattle. This was in 1984. We called ourselves the Emerald Orca Swim Club (Seattle is nicknamed the “Emerald City” for being surrounded by evergreen forests and mountains). I became co-captain and shortly thereafter Allison Beezer joined me as co-captain—a wonderful woman involved with guiding clients on socially-responsible investing and financial planning. One of our biggest first goals was to organize swimmers and divers from Seattle to participate in Gay Games II in San Francisco in 1986. Dana would no longer be the only Gay Games swimmer from Seattle!

To get ready, we needed to not only practice swimming, we needed coaching, we needed pool access, we needed to practice actually swimming in competitions, diving off the starter blocks, having legal turns at the end of each pool length, not getting disqualified for touching the pool end with one hand versus two hands simultaneously as required by USMS rules for breaststroke, etc.

As our Orca Swim Club began to grow, it became clear that we were definitely going to send a dozen or more swimmers to Gay Games II. It also became clear that other sporting interests in Seattle’s growing LGBTQ+ community were emerging and coming into existence—spurred on by the excitement of being able to participate at Gay Games II. A real movement was beginning—a whole new form of “gay liberation” centered on the health, fitness and camaraderie unique to participatory sport. What a thrill and wonder! Given the level playing field unique to sport, we gay men, women and the full spectrum of gender identities could not only hold our own, we could compete with the best.

   
Rick Peterson at Gay Games II in 1986

Picking up on this burgeoning sport scene, as co-captain of the Orca Swim Club, I began talking with other emerging sport leaders of other gay teams in Seattle including Frontrunners, the volleyball team, soccer team, softball and bowling leagues and more. I and a few others recognized the value of forming some kind of umbrella LGBTQ+ sport organization in Seattle that could help support new and emerging sport teams, and band together to promote the opportunity and excitement of fielding a big multisport team to Gay Games II. So, I helped co-found Team Seattle in 1985 and became co-chair along with women’s soccer player Danette Leonardi.

After Gay Games II, to keep the ball rolling, the Orca Swim Club organized what we continue to believe was the first USMS-sanctioned LGBTQ+ swim meet possibly in the world, or at least up to that point in the United States. We hosted a USMS-sanctioned dual swim meet with our wonderful neighbor LGBTQ+ swim team 2-hours north in Vancouver, British Columbia, the English Bay Swim Club.

It was at this first dual meet in 1987 that the Orca Swim Club introduced the “Pink Flamingo Relay,” a fun way to cap off the swim meet and “make it gay.” Since then, the Pink Flamingo Relay has continued to grow and become a true highlight of every Gay Games aquatics competition—and at annual International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics (IGLA) championships.

Up until this point, swimming at Gay Games I and II was not USMS-sanctioned. No USMS swimming records could be set, nor World Masters records. For that to be possible, swim competitions in the United States had to be sanctioned by USMS, the governing body of masters swimming in the U.S. (with similar country-specific masters organizations globally, comprising World Masters Swimming).

To obtain USMS sanctioning for our first swim meet, we had to overcome unexpected objections from the regional USMS sanctioning body in our area. Usually, getting a swim meet sanctioned was a rubber-stamp kind of thing. But here we were, in a fight with misinformed people prejudiced against gay people, even people who feared we’d spread AIDS in the pool. This was all happening as the enormous and terribly frightening AIDS pandemic was accelerating. Misinformation was rampant. Fear was gripping.

Long story short—with the help of Cal Anderson, the first and only openly gay elected member of the Washington State Legislature at that time—we cried foul, and got our sanctioning. And the rest is history because after that, the Orca Swim Team became one of the most popular USMS swim meet hosts in Western Washington. Stroke by stroke, we began changing the swimming world in our little neck of the woods.

Meanwhile, Team Seattle focused on gathering a huge team to participate in Gay Games III in 1990 not far away in Vancouver, Canada—the first Gay Games outside San Francisco. To build momentum and interest, we organized our first multisport festival in the summer of 1987—dubbed the Northwest Gay/Lesbian Sports Festival. Coordinating with local LGBTQ+ sport teams and leagues, we offered about 15 sports including the first-ever LGBTQ water polo tournament as part of our aquatics line-up, spearheaded by Mark Schoofs from San Francisco. Which then spurred the birth of our first LGBTQ+ water polo team in Seattle so we could participate in our own tournament!

Everything just kept building—now I was a swimmer, a water polo player, co-caption of the Orca Swim Club, and co-chair of Team Seattle spearheading a 15-sport festival on the way to attracting more participants than the first Gay Games in San Francisco (all while holding down a full-time job in the creative department of an ad agency)!

Lots of fitful nights waking up in a panic. The combined experience had a huge impact on my personal and professional life, helped me find inner courage, work with diverse groups of people, find common cause, and discover I had more leadership skills than I’d given myself credit for. The confidence I was able to develop in the LGBTQ+ sports community ended up having a huge impact on my advertising career, as well. Thank you Gay Games.

As our first Northwest Gay/Lesbian Sports Festival was approaching, I learned Dr. Tom Waddell, U.S. Olympic decathlete and Gay Games founder, was set to visit to Seattle for a television interview about the Gay Games and about him having HIV and AIDS. Somehow I was able to make contact with Dr. Waddell and he graciously invited me to meet and have lunch at his hotel prior to his interview.

Tom Waddell was, and remains today, someone I strongly revered and almost idolized. I was greatly humbled to meet him. Really, I was thunderstruck and hardly knew what to say. Tom was such a supremely well-spoken and soft-spoken man, beyond inspirational. He was so enthused and encouraging about our upcoming LGBTQ+ sports festival in Seattle slated for July 1987, totally inspired by Gay Games.

Dr. Waddell and I had our lunch on Feb. 26, 1987. He was already clearly suffering and frail at the time. I wondered how long Tom would live. People were beginning to die left and right as the AIDS pandemic asserted itself strongly, a very frightening time. Without knowing if it could ever happen, I invited Dr. Waddell to come to our first sports festival as a special guest of honor and speaker. But less than five months later on July 11, 1987, Dr. Waddell passed away at age 49, with his last words being, “Well, this ought to be interesting,” according to his wife and fellow Gay Games leader Sara Waddell Lewinstein.

It was terrible to lose the visionary and inspiring founder of Gay Games. But Tom and his fellow members of San Francisco Arts and Athletics had permanently set in motion a movement destined to sweep the global LGBTQ+ world, and really transform what it could mean to live as an empowered member of one of the world’s most historically marginalized groups.


Gay Games founder Paul Mart receiving the Tom Waddell Award at Gay Games III in 1990

Instead of Dr. Tom Waddell showing up at our first Northwest Gay/Lesbian Sports Festival in 1987, another legendary board member of San Francisco Arts and Athletics arrived as our guest of honor instead, the irascible, cowboy-hat wearing Paul Mart. At the conclusion of our 3-day sports festival, we hosted a big closing ceremonies dinner with about 700 athletes attending, and I’ll never forget when Paul Mart presented us with a beautiful, original “Gay Olympic Games” poster, banned by the U.S. Olympic Committee (in fact all such posters were ordered destroyed, but just a few somehow managed to survive, and now, Paul Mart had just presented us with one, with the blessings of by-then-deceased Tom Waddell).

Swimming had again become the deep keel that was keeping my ship upright in a heavy seas. And I wasn’t the only one—by now I knew that many in our LGBTQ+ community were joining swim teams, and all kinds of other new teams all over the world partly in response to the inspiration of Gay Games. As the crushing weight of the AIDS pandemic continued to build, we were all trying to survive and thrive in a scary time. In a sense, we were all “swimming for our lives,” connecting to community, support and strength through sport (and culture, too).

The following summer, Team Seattle hosted the 2nd edition of the Northwest Gay/Lesbian Sports festival, and introduced such sports as fencing and croquet (the latter making it into the roster of Gay Games III sports in Vancouver 1990). Participation grew to more than 1,700 athletes from all over the U.S., Canada, and further afield.

Wisely, in about 1987, Vancouver Arts and Athletics, the organizers of Gay Games III, started inviting known LGBTQ+ sport and cultural leaders from all over North America including some from Europe, to visit Vancouver for intensive 3-day planning conferences to help Vancouver plan the best possible Gay Games III. I was among the delegation from Seattle, joined by fellow Team Seattle board members Margaret Hedgecock and Betty Whitaker.

At these Gay Games III planning conferences I met other like-minded LGBTQ+ sport leaders including some very talented and strong women: Peg Grey from Team Chicago, and Susan Kennedy from Team San Francisco. I was really enjoying getting to know women—women I grew to admire and like very much. This was all fostered by my involvement with Gay Games and our nascent international LGBTQ+ sport and cultural movement. For the sake of continuity and “lessons learned,” key members of the San Francisco Arts and Athletics board also attended these Vancouver planning sessions including Sara Waddell Lewinstein, Paul Mart, attorney Larry Sheehan, and Gay Games II executive director Shawn Kelly.

To see video of Executive Director Shawn Kelly speaking at the Closing Ceremony, click HERE

One day in early 1989 I got an unexpected phone call from Larry Sheehan, co-president of San Francisco Arts and Athletics, the organization Dr. Waddell had founded to produce Gay Games I and II. SFAA was about to rename itself the Federation of Gay Games to make it clear Gay Games didn’t belong to San Francisco, but rather to the world. SFAA planned to expand its board of directors beyond just San Francisco and Bay Area members. These actions would occur at a special SFAA board meeting which Larry proposed to hold in Seattle in early July, 1989.


Rick Peterson, FGG Co-President

He told me that he and other members of the continuing SFAA board of directors would attend  including SFAA co-president Rikki Streicher, along with key leaders from Vancouver 1990 including Richard Dopson, and a small group of LGBTQ+ sport leaders involved in Vancouver’s Gay Games III planning sessions. Larry told me I was invited, along with fellow Team Seattle leaders Betty Whitaker and Margaret Hedgecock. He asked if I’d help find a good venue for the meeting (I said “yes”), and then he dropped the bombshell:

“We want to nominate you to be co-president of the Federation of Gay Games."


FGG leadership at Gay Games IV. L to R: Brent Nicholson Earle, Rikki Streicher, Sara Waddell Lewinstein, Susan Kennedy, Rick Peterson

That began a dramatic new chapter in my Gay Games adventures. Including, during the five years I served as FGG co-president, the thrill of seeing Gay Games grow from 3,500 participants at Gay Games II in San Francisco in 1986, to 7,500 participants at Gay Games III in Vancouver in 1990, to 11,500 participants in 1994 at Gay Games IV in New York City. And along the way, breaking barriers and celebrating the development of sport and culture groups— creating exciting opportunities for hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ+ athletes and artists worldwide to participate, be included, and reach for personal bests.

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Post 7 of 40 - 3 August - Building Blocks, Origin Stories, and Growing Pains

“Passing The Torch: Ruby Anniversary Edition” is a factual timeline of the major events that have been part of the Gay Games evolution since its inception. The series will run from 28 July 2022 - one month before the 40th anniversary of the original Opening Ceremony at San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium - through 05 September, the anniversary of Gay Games I Closing Ceremony. All postings will remain online and available for viewing at the FGG website.

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Following Gay Games II, more of the teams in the various sport disciplines began to create their own networks as more and more sports teams took the courage to be out and proud. It was also a time to transition from having the original host organization produce the event, to figuring out a way to select the next host city through an open bid process. But in order to do so, an international governing body would need to be created to steward the quadrennial event.

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BRENT NICHOLSON EARLE: I was not in on the ground floor of the Gay Games movement. In 1985, I decided to run around the entire US to bring attention to the AIDS crisis, a project that became the American Run for the End of AIDS. I had no track record as a marathon runner and needed some prominent people in the LGBT movement and AIDS organizations behind me. I reached out to GMHC (Gay Men’s Health Crisis) but they were too busy trying to keep people alive. Everywhere I tried, I came up dry.

I asked other runners how I could possibly train for a 9,000 mile plus run. The advice I got was to train to run marathons and just keep doing them. That year I did five marathons, one of which was the San Francisco marathon. I had a 30-day Greyhound bus pass, which got me to the west coast. I knew I needed Tom Waddell’s endorsement but hadn’t met him yet.

Tom agreed to meet at his office at San Francisco General Hospital. I had prepared a packet of information but he didn’t look at anything. He didn’t even question me. He just said, “This is fantastic!” and invited me to a kickoff party for Gay Games II in his home that weekend. That afternoon I met a lot of the people who would become beloved friends and colleagues on the Federation of Gay Games.

    
Brent Nicholson Earle and the American Run for the end of AIDS

The American Run for the End of AIDS went from March 1,1986 to October 31,1987 with Gay Games II in the middle of August 1986. I took a detour out of Billings, Montana to run the marathon in the Gay Games in San Francisco.

Tom had been very sick. He came down with pneumocystis right before the Opening Ceremony and got out of the hospital just in time to throw the javelin and win the gold medal. He was still really shaky as he spoke at Closing Ceremony and urged everyone to come out.

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(L) Article about Joanie Evans; (C) Joanie's winning Hackney FC team (Joanie in back row at left): Joanie's medal winning team at GGVI, Sydney 2002

JOANIE EVANS: I was lucky enough to join Hackney Women’s FC, at the same time I came out in 1987. They were already an established team that was predominantly lesbian, they weren’t playing as an ‘out’ team. Due to loads of discrimination around our sexuality from our opposition, their fans and the league, the team held a meeting which subsequently led to us being the 1st ‘Out’ team in Europe… we were pipped to title of the first team in the world, by a few months, by the Flying Bats in Australia.

Playing with this bunch of diverse women, made me feel part of a wider community. In the beginning the team had no real skill, but as a unit we felt we could conquer anything. We played in the third tier of the Greater London League and before we came out we found it difficult to find players, but after me and the team were featured on national TV, our membership grew beyond proportion, with the amount of lesbians that wanted to play for us. Today the team has been going strong for more than 30 yrs and they have 3 teams playing regularly.

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The first Pink Flamingo show - Gay Games III, Vancouver 1990

CHARLIE CARSON: Pink Flamingo

The Pink Flamingo aquatics show – it’s a Gay Games event never envisioned by the 1982 founders, that’s for sure! But now, after three decades, it is a solid tradition – not to mention hilariously fun and hotly contested. In the latest edition, a packed house at Gay Games 10: Paris 2018 saw London’s Out to Swim team take first place.

During the Gay Games’ early years, cross-dressing was enough to be a star on a pool deck in keeping with the LGBTQ+ community’s long history of gender bending transgression. And at the first two Gay Games that’s all it was – a man in a woman’s swimsuit at the swimmer’s party in 1982; a male relay team similarly attired upstaging the other medalists on the awards stand in 1986.

Also in 1986, Vancouver’s English Bay Swim Team added a pink flamingo element at a meet with their Seattle Orca friends. Organizers were inspired to create an exhibition relay race by a Vancouver TV commercial for a home insulation company showing a yard full of pink lawn flamingos. In a 1994 interview before Gay Games IV, English Bay’s John Whistler said, “We wanted to have a fun event to take a little of the competitive edge off.” The only rule was that the swimmers hd to carry the flamingo and hand it off to the next member of the relay team. How each team carried the bird was up to them.

At the first International Gay & Lesbian Aquatics (IGLA) Championships in early 1987, New York swimmers came out before a relay dressed as Lady Liberty – and this time swimming in their lycra gowns in the race itself (never mind that they weren’t even competitive; the fun was the point).

The pink flamingo batons next became a tradition at Seattle’s Northwest Gay & Lesbian Sports Festival beginning that July 1987. Picking up a cue from New York a few months earlier, the teams came out from the locker rooms in various costumes, not all cross-dressed. By this point, the event was called the Pink Flamingo Relay.

When Vancouver hosted IGLA’s 1989 Championships, the hosts made the lawn flamingos into hats with pink ribbons to tie them onto the swimmers’ heads. Costumes were now entrenched as part of the program.

For Vancouver’s Gay Games III, the parade of costumed relay teams was the longest yet, with superheroes, fish and lobsters, mermen, Madonna look-alikes, Carmen Mirandas, and more. But New York upped the ante dramatically, with 40 – not four – 40 identical outfits based on Marlo Thomas’ character in the 1960s sitcom, “That Girl.” Marlos came out not only on the pool deck but down through the spectator stands, and before long some were going off the 10-meter diving tower.

Before the relay race itself, 20 Marlos lined up on each pool end to support their swimming relay teammates and, without advance planning, suddenly hopped into the water, bopping up and down to meet in the middle (and… never mind that they weren’t competitive; the fun was the point). At other sports venues all over town the next day, people asked, “Did you hear what happened at the pool last night?!”

        
Various Pink Flamingo events at the Gay Games

By 1994 at New York’s Gay Games IV, the costumes weren’t enough – the teams began creating three-to-four-minute skits. And Team New York Aquatics established the rule that the host team would not compete because home advantage meant far more participants would be possible than likely for the traveling teams.

The relay portion – exchanging pink flamingo hats or water bottles or something else – was dropped over the next several years, with the event settling into its current state of skits only. Sydney’s 2002 Gay Games VI had the largest number of teams ever participate – sixteen.


Pink Flamingo, Gay Games VI, Sydney 2002

Local host capacity sometimes limits the number of non-aquatics Gay Games or IGLA participants to the Pink Flamingo, so reserve your place early when tickets are available at future Games.

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Post 8 of 40 - 4 August - Gay Games III

4 - 11 August, 1990; 8,800 participants; Vancouver, BC Canada

“Passing The Torch: Ruby Anniversary Edition” is a factual timeline of the major events that have been part of the Gay Games evolution since its inception. The series will run from 28 July 2022 - one month before the 40th anniversary of the original Opening Ceremony at San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium - through 5 September, the anniversary of Gay Games I Closing Ceremony. All postings will remain online and available for viewing at the FGG website.

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Doug Litwin and the Festival Band on stage at the Orpheum Theatre, Vancouver

DOUG LITWIN: Gay Games III was the most amazing week of my life. We OWNED that city. Everywhere you went in town there was visible evidence of the Gay Games. I was happily super busy that week, participating in multiple band events, the bowling tournament, and the racquetball tournament where I won my first medals (a gold and a silver). I enjoyed all of this with my loving partner and the week was pure magic. I also attended the annual meetings of the Lesbian and Gay Bands of America, representing my Band and getting elected to their Board for the first time (I served 20 years on that Board, including 4 years as President).

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Gay Games III Opening Ceremony, BC Place, Vancouver. Photo: Erik Graff

JESSICA WADDELL-LEWINSTEIN: My first memory of the Games was in Vancouver, on stage as a child with my mom before I ran off for hugs from people I recognized in the front row.

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JAMES HAHN: Gay Games III in Vancouver was the toughest bowling competition, before or since. This was the first games held outside the United States. It was also the first games to use a five-game set instead of the usual three, and scores were cumulative. The qualifying rounds consisted of 15 games instead of the usual 9. It was very tough and not only did you have to be good, you had to be consistently good The gold medal in men's singles went to good friend Kevin Schwabe from San Francisco who averaged better than 215 over what seemed like a zillion games.

That Gay Games the Canadian Comedienne, Robin Tyler, who told two jokes during the Closing Ceremony that I remember to this day., one being “Do you know what drag is? It's when a gay man wears everything a lesbian won’t.”

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Brent Nicholson Earle at Gay Games III Opening Ceremony

BRENT NICHOLSON EARLE: Gay Games III : Vancouver 1990 was the first time the Gay Games were going to be taking place outside of San Francisco. I thought we should have our own torch run, but a torch wasn’t the right symbol, because we had been sued by the United States Olympic Committee over our original name: The Gay Olympic Games. The idea came to me to create a relay in which we would pass the rainbow flag. It was six months out to the games: not enough time to organize a flag relay, so I decided to just do it myself.

The plan was to do it like we had done the run around America. This was only a 1,000 mile chunk. I remember calling my Mom and asking if she would you like to go out again. Her answer was, “Of course.” We gave ourselves eight weeks to carry it into the Opening Ceremony.

The morning I ran into Vancouver, a couple hundred runners from the Gay Games from all over the world joined me. We finished at the BC Place Stadium. I ran by myself with the flag into the stadium. My Mom and my two Road Managers, Terrah Keene and Skylar Fein were on the stage waiting for me.

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Wrestlers WithOut Borders logo

GENE DERMODY: Another milestone was achieved in Vancouver 1990 Gay Games when the wrestlers met to create what would become Wrestlers WithOut Borders (WWB) to be international, facilitate the creation of LGBTQ+ clubs, and operate within the FGG as the wrestling representative. WWB was then positioned to push strongly for the "Red Book" project within the FGG directly.

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RICK PETERSON: Near the conclusion of Gay Games III, Rick Peterson and Peg Gray had the exciting duty to announce the news about where Gay Games IV would be taking place. HERE is an article about that event. To see an even more exciting video of the announcement of the host for Gay Games IV in 1994, click HERE.

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Post 9 of 40 - 5 August Mending Fences, Global Expansion, and the HIV Waiver

“Passing The Torch: Ruby Anniversary Edition” is a factual timeline of the major events that have been part of the Gay Games evolution since its inception. The series will run from 28 July 2022 - one month before the 40th anniversary of the original Opening Ceremony at San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium - through 5 September, the anniversary of Gay Games I Closing Ceremony. All postings will remain online and available for viewing at the FGG website.

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The FGG logo, subject of the 1992 meeting with the US Olympic Committee

SUSAN KENNEDY: In 1992, the FGG Executive Committee went to Colorado Springs and met with then Executive Director Harvey Schiller, and staff members, regarding some lingering issues related to the logo. At that time, it was agreed that the “three interlocking circles' were acceptable to use. Another outcome at that time, was the USOC's willingness to list the Federation and host committee in their directory, which happened for a couple of years. Within a couple of years, Dr. Schiller departed the USOC to take a job with Turner Sports. After his departure, it appears that some of the logo problems reared their head again which led to work by Toby Butterfield and the 2000 agreement and IOC letter that FGG Co-Presidents Bill Wassmer and Susan Emerson unveiled in Sydney. 

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Richard Hogan at 2016 AGA in Sydney

RICHARD HOGAN: Over the years, I have served the Federation of Gay Games as Team Sydney’s voting delegate, an FGG Individual Director, FGG Site Selection Co-Chair and FGG Male Vice President. While I am honoured to be a ‘Life Member’ of both Team Sydney and the Federation of Gay Games, I am most proud of having received an ‘Order of Australia Medal’ for service to Sport Administration. 

I first became involved in the Gay Games movement as a way to grieve the loss of my first partner, Phil who had recently died of AIDS. I moved from the USA to join him in Sydney and we had lived there together for nine years. I received my Australian permanent residency and later Australian citizenship on the basis of our relationship. Homosexuality had only just been legalised in Australia but the community was in a very sad, angry and distressed place. Like so many others, I was losing close friends at an alarming rate and needed something to improve my emotional state of mind. 

I had read about the Gay Games in the local gay newspaper and was aware of a strong gay and lesbian sporting community but I had never participated in any of their events. I had recently become a volunteer with the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras which by that time had become the largest night time parade in the world. At a community fair I was made aware that they were partnering with Team Sydney in a bid to host Gay Games V. I immediately joined that effort and eventually became one of the Sydney bid presenters at the Federation of Gay Games’ Annual Meeting in Washington, DC in 1993. It was one of the best decisions in my life. 

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Anthony Alston at Gay Games VIII 2014 in Cologne

ANTHONY ALSTON: As I write this essay on my Federation of Gay Games (FGG) experience, I smile reflecting on the accomplishments that CHEER has made over the years and my contribution to these intertwined movements. “CHEER” refers to the cheerleaders that participate, fundraise and now compete at the Gay Games. CHEER San Francisco is the organization that I fondly call “the mothership” and has been thrilling crowds with their own unique brand of high energy performances around the world since 1980.


Hayward Raw Rahs, predecessor to CHEER SF, at Gay Games I in 1982

CHEER SF is the world’s first LGBTQ+ identified cheerleading team. Founded by Guy Andrade, the team was originally named the Hayward Raw Rahs. In 1990, the name was changed to the Bay Area Raw Rahs then in 1996 they became known as CHEER San Francisco. In 2004, CHEER SF established the CHEER For Life Foundation, an entity designed to enable and promote CHEER SF’s intent on giving back to its communities.


CHEER SF today, on steps of San Francisco City Hall

CHEER SF is an all volunteer based 501(c)3 organization with a philanthropic mission: “[To] inspire, entertain, and amaze audiences through powerful performance[s] while challenging others to be their best and supporting organizations that strengthen our communities.” CHEER SF’s beneficiaries support those living with life challenging conditions including HIV/AIDS and breast cancer.

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Laura Moore (left) skating with her same-sex partner,, Gay Games IV, NYC 1994

LAURA MOORE: I first heard of the Gay Games in 1991. I had recently left my husband, bought a pair of figure skates and come out. It was all part of my grand plan to accept myself for who I was and to begin to get healthy, both physically and mentally. At the first NYC Pride March that I attended as an out lesbian and beginning figure skater, I was thrilled to see a few members of NY in ’94 sharing information about the Gay Games coming to NY.

The next week I visited a tiny volunteer office and tried to register for figure skating. I had a crazy fantasy about skating pairs with another women. A volunteer politely cut me off, explaining that the event would be in the summer. She also let me know that softball was popular with lesbians. I had avoided gym class as a child, not realizing until decades later that I might have actually met another lesbian if I had been interested in playing outside.

My interests in vintage dresses, antiques, and hosting dinner parties turned out to be more aligned with those of the gay male friends I was beginning to make in skating classes. I made a coffee date with Arthur Luiz. We decided to try to convince the organizers that people would pay money to see gay men in sparkles and spandex partnering each other on the ice. I only knew one other out lesbian figure skater at the time. That day, Arthur and I founded the International Gay Figure Skating Union and reached out to every skater we knew, looking to find a few out skaters.

Activist Ann Northrop, was on the NY in ’94 board and lived in my Chelsea apartment building. She loved the idea when I pitched it to her, and challenged me to prove it.

So, Arthur and I put on the first ever queer figure skating show (Pride Skate) in 1991. I financed it. We flew in a few skaters, sold tickets and invited Ann in her rental skates to join us on the ice for the big announcement.


Figure Skaters Trevor Kruse and Darren Singbiel of Toronto at Games IV figure skaters protesting "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy regarding gays in the U.S. military

The next thing we knew, Arthur and I were put in charge of running figure skating for Gay Games IV. It was a simpler time in the figure skating world. We wrote our own rules for the competition and easily received permission from the US and Canadian governing bodies for their skaters and judges to participate.

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Susan Kennedy (second from right), FGG Co-President, Gay Games IV, NYC 1994

SUSAN KENNEDY: Gay Games IV: New York City 1994 raised the profile of the Games significantly, and as home to some of the leading AIDS activists and organizations, there was significant interest in mounting an effort to obtain what was known as a “10-day blanket waiver” that would allow individuals who were HIV positive / living with AIDS to enter the United States to participate in the Games. Under normal circumstances at that time, the United States barred nonresidents with HIV from entering the country.

Entry forms asked pointed questions about one’s HIV status, which would be used to deny entry. While many individuals chose to simply lie on their forms, there was concern that those traveling with medications, etc. would be subjected to discrimination and denied entry. The blanket waiver made it possible for participants to not declare their HIV status if they were entering the U.S. as a participant in Gay Games IV.

The Federation took the lead role with the U.S Government in this process. Co-President Rick Peterson and I began researching and reaching out to individuals within the various departments that would be involved in the decision making. Over time, we had established contact with representatives in the State Department, Health and Human Services, and Immigration and Naturalization Services. Fortunately, we were in the early years of the Clinton administration and while many staff members were federal employees who simply worked within a department through numerous administrations, we were fortunate to have high-ranking officials who were more receptive to our request than others might have been.

At the time, a “blanket waiver” had only been issued once and that was for the 1990 International AIDS Conference in San Francisco. Our job was to make the case that the Gay Games was an event that empowered people and provided the opportunity to participate in a positive event. We also discussed the fact that the Gay Games provided an opportunity to educate people about those living with HIV.

In the fall of 1993, when the Federation held its annual meeting in Washington D.C., Rick and I had the opportunity to meet with members of various departments face to face to make the case for the Gay Games. While those meetings were very positive, we still needed to continue our efforts. Finally, in March of 1994, the announcement was made by Attorney General, Janet Reno that the waiver and been granted.

I happened to be in D.C. at the time, having been invited to speak at a briefing of Regional INS Directors about the Gay Games. Since 1994 was also a World Cup year, INS realized that they were going to have thousands of people entering the country for both events. This briefing not only covered preparations for the World Cup; it also provided an opportunity for the directors to learn about the Gay Games and its. Also included in their two-day conference was INS Waiver Procedures and Sensitivity issues as well as cultural sensitivity overall.

The blanket waiver drew considerable attention, not all of it positive, but a TV appearance on the Larry King Live TV show, by Brent Nicholson Earle and I provided an opportunity to discuss the waiver and the positive aspects of the Gay Games.

Obtaining the waiver for Gay Games IV likely made the process to obtain the waiver for Gay Games VII in Chicago a much easier task and from my personal perspective continues to reinforce the fact that “Gay Games Change the World.” There’s no doubt it has made a difference.

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Post 10 of 40 - 6 August Gay Games IV

18 - 25 June, 1994; 15,000 participants; New York City, NY USA

“Passing The Torch: Ruby Anniversary Edition” is a factual timeline of the major events that have been part of the Gay Games evolution since its inception. The series will run from 28 July 2022 - one month before the 40th anniversary of the original Opening Ceremony at San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium - through 5 September, the anniversary of Gay Games I Closing Ceremony. All postings will remain online and available for viewing at the FGG website.

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Joanie Evans with her teammates, GGIV Opening Ceremony, NYC 1994. Photo: Sara Feinsmith (L); Bill Strubbe (R)

JOANIE EVANS: When Hackney Women’s Football Club participated in Gay Games IV: New York 1994 that’s when I saw how global and diverse sport was and it felt like heaven. We had participated thinking we were the only team representing the UK, only to find other likeminded people who have now become good friends.  Four of us from the team participated in the Gay Games Choir, which is an experience I will never forget.  It was hard getting to rehearsals with our football schedule, but it was worth it to be included in this part of the opening ceremony and getting our picture in the Unity ’94 book, page 4!

This first Gay Games for me ignited something that wanted me to want to share my experiences to inspire others to take up a sport and connect them with the Gay Games and other LGBTQ+ events happening locally and globally.

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(L) Jim Ballard poolside 1980s; (R) today from Light In The Water, courtesy Lis Bartlett

JAMES T. BALLARD: Positive Swimming

In 1994, the one thing I knew was, if I was swimming, I was still in the race.  The virus hadn’t won yet.  That was my mantra.  Swimming was living.

The hardest part of that reality was looking forward.  I was a sprinter, and I was facing the long haul of pills, blood pulls, reactions, and opportunistic infections.  I wondered how long I had.  The question then was when?  How much time did I have before I hit the hard decline?

I was built to go fast for short periods of time, not battle distance.  I learned that every time I stepped on the blocks.  I was inconsistent on anything over a 100.  I would occasionally keep it together for a 200, but that was it.  I couldn’t see into the endless miles with the horizon constantly moving away like the setting sun.  That was another mindset, a different skill set, and that was what I desperately needed.  I didn’t know the way forward and I was always asking myself, what if I am making the wrong choice?  That was the fog as the words of a friend had come to haunt me, “I thought I would have more time.”

I had found over the prior year that the medications were incompatible with the practice of law and my new career was survival.  That meant staying in the water.  I was still equal there.  All I had to do was stay healthy enough to respond to the next set of meds and the next to stay in the race.  No one believed a cure was in site. 

I had to cut to the chase and compress.  I developed a three-year plan to make my world more manageable.  If it couldn’t happen in three years, it didn’t exist.  My life was now fully measured by what the virus could do with my numbers in that time, and I was just coming through a case of hepatitis as I entered 1994. 


Jim Ballard in the starting blocks, Gay Games IV, NYC 1994, from Light In The Water, courtesy Lis Bartlett

I wasn’t thinking about how fast I would go in New York.  I simply wanted to feel the love and joy of Gay Games IV and I started to train.  It started ugly and my body responded slowly, but I still loved to swim.  I was going to swim and celebrate being alive.  The time on the scoreboard didn’t matter.  I would be alive, and I would share all that joy with a community alive.  I would be there.  That I could see.

  
Jim Ballard as featured in Sports Illustrated "Faces In The Crowd" 12 September 1994
To see a very cool video of this magazine feature, click HERE

Months after the New York Gay Games and my Masters world record in the 100-meter backstroke was in the books, Sports Illustrated reported on my achievement in a short paragraph in Faces in the Crowd.  I was the Gay Games mention.  That was a step forward, but it did not include the most distinguishing factor with this swim, the reason I was profiled.  It did not mention I was HIV positive.  That was too much for the editorial board, but it was the start of a conversation, another beginning. 

Now, I still love to swim, and I am still having that conversation.

* * *

DOUG LITWIN: 1994 was another amazing experience in the Big Apple of NYC. I’ll never forget the afternoon I arrived in town. In addition to all the midtown madness of Manhattan, that was also the day when O. J. Simpson led the police on a freeway chase in Los Angeles. Watching that drama unfold on live TV as the Gay Games were getting set to begin was surreal!


The giant marquee at Madison Square Garden advertises the Massed Band performance

Gay Games IV was another busy week for me. I performed in numerous band events, highlighted by a huge concert at Madison Square Garden (elsewhere in the building, Barbra Streisand was performing the same night!) and the Closing Ceremony in historic Yankee Stadium. As a lifelong baseball fan, being on the field where Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and other hall of famers played baseball was an experience only exceeded in 2006 when I played with the band at Wrigley Field, an equally historic baseball palace in my hometown of Chicago.

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Australians at Gay Games IV Opening Ceremony, NYC 1994

RICHARD HOGAN: My first Gay Games was in New York City in 1994 and it was a wonderful experience. Remembering the thrill of marching into the Opening Ceremony still gives me goosebumps! I coordinated the Australian uniforms and was extremely satisfied the next day when a large photo of Team Sydney athletes appeared on the front page of the New York Times - Metro Section. Another highlight of the week was a reception for lesbian and gay Aussie athletes held by the Australian Consulate General. Since New York in 1994, government receptions have become a tradition for Aussie athletes and artists travelling overseas for Gay Games.

Gay Games IV was also very special because my new partner, Grant and I participated in the Flag Football competition. We didn’t win a game but we could not have been more excited than when Grant caught the only successful pass during all of our games. 

The Gay Games were held in New York City during the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall riot and on the last day thousands of us marched past the United Nations building. The sight of a mile long rainbow flag going through midtown Manhattan, surrounded by NYC skyscrapers was breathtaking! One amazing moment I captured on video was when a solo protester stood on the sidewalk holding a sign which said “God hates fags”. One guy ahead of me pointed to the protester and shouted “SHAME".  Before long thousands of us were pointing and shouting “shame” until the police escorted the protester away, followed by huge cheers! It was magical. The Gay Games IV motto, ‘Unity’ was fulfilled. 

Attending Gay Games events, as well as general site-seeing made our week in NYC go far too quickly. Fortunately, Grant and I continued to travel around the USA and he met my family in Louisiana for the first time. By the way, Grant and I just celebrated our 29th anniversary. 

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(L) Gay Games IV, NYC 1994; (R) Jessica (center) with Brent Nicholson Earle and mom Sara. Photo: Ann Meredith

JESSICA WADDELL-LEWINSTEIN: In New York, I remember rollerblading with the rainbow run; watching a video of my dad at the Opening Ceremony; speaking in front of 10,000 people; and meeting Cindy Lauper in the bathroom at Yankee Stadium before she performed “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”

* * *


Brent Nicholson Earle at Gay Games IV, NYC 1994. Photo: Ann Meredith

BRENT NICHOLSON EARLE: With GG IV coming to NY, my friend Roddy Shaul (who I had worked together with at the Federation ever since I met him when he was the president of the Los Angeles Sports Alliance), asked me if I was going to run again with the flag from San Francisco to New York.

By then, I had serious spinal problems and happened to meet the actor Anthony Rapp who I wanted to get involved in the fight against AIDS. We met at the Paramount Hotel; he walked in with a pair of rollerblades over his shoulder and asked about creating a blading event in Central Park. I called Roddy right away and told him we were not going to run across the country. We were going to create a rainbow team of rollerbladers, and I asked Roddy to join us, even though neither he nor I had any experience at rollerblading. Tom and Sarah’s daughter, Jessica was then 11 and a rollerblader. She did the kickoff with us. We had a team of 7. Only three were serious rollerbladers. Two others were pretty good. Then there was Roddy and me. We were black, white and Asian; male and female.

There has been a rainbow flag carried into the Opening Ceremony for every Games since. Each host decides how it will enter the ceremony. Leading up to each Games there is a symbolic run in each of the prior host cities. This series of events is known as the International Rainbow Memorial Run.

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Gay Games IV Figure Skaters (left photo); Laura Moore at left in right photo (photo: Ann Meredith)

JAMES HAHN: In 1994, the Gay Games headed to New York and to a new level of organization. The two things I remember about that were that this was the first games to have professional figure skating judges and also the first games to offer that sport. The figure skating competition was phenomenal. The first performance I saw was a gentleman who came out and skated the first part of his routine dressed in a yellow rain slicker with matching hat and an umbrella. The music was “Singing in the Rain.” It was a nice, low speed routine. Suddenly he stops, loses the umbrella, sheds the slicker, and tosses off the hat to reveal a bright electric blue jumpsuit as the music changes to “It’s Raining Men” as he gave a very energetic second half of his performance.

The “Night of Champions” figure skating exhibition featured a number of surprises. First, the emcee, Olympic figure skater Randy Gardner, enthusiastically announced that she was pregnant.

The next was a couple of skaters who had never met before the games. An ice dancer from Canada, whose partner had fallen ill, had come to New York at the insistence of his partner who asked him to find someone to skate with. Some other skater's coach said that he would skate with him. They borrowed some outfits from a lesbian pair (the only matching ones they could find that fit). The Canadian taught the coach the routine and the pair went on to win the gold medal. When the story was told as the couple were skating, you could feel the emotion in the building reminding everyone what the Gay Games were all about.

The last surprise was one Laura Moore, the organizer of the skating events, feared. She knew that the woman who won her division in singles came out on the ice wearing a skirt and a scarf and nothing else (yes, no top!). She came out and did her routine and near the end of it, she intentionally did a face plant on the ice and slid for about 20 feet or so. You could hear every woman in the building gasp for air and clutch their chest.

New York's Gay Games held the best Closing Ceremony of the Gay Games before or since. As the athletes marched into (now) “old” Yankee Stadium, we were greeted by Harvey Fierstein, who repeatedly asked the participants “Where you from?” in his distinctive gravelly voice. The female comedienne who was with him took the response from there. A moment or two later, we heard “Where you from?” again. Later in the evening, Jay Hill, the NY Games president, the first paid position ever for the Gay Games, announced the feedback he had heard from the paid judges. They were so amazed by the camaraderie and caring by the participants for the other participants, they offered to come back to the next Games and judge them for free. Again, the principle of the Gay Games, to do your personal best, shone through. Any and all encouragement welcome! He also announced that there was a possibility of a special guest later on, but did not elaborate.

Near the end of the evening, which included Cindy Lauper doing a version of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” with 20+ drag queens backing her up, I noticed the wall in right field open up and a golf cart come through. A very astute technician ran a microphone over to the cart and our special guest introduced herself. She got to the main stage and Patti LaBelle treated us to the most beautiful rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” I've ever heard.

* * *


Laura Moore (left), skating at Gay Games IV, NYC 1994. Photo: Chuck Smith

LAURA MOORE: Nine months before Gay Games IV: New York 1994, I had two very bad weeks. My skating partner let me know that she wanted to focus on her solo skating and wouldn’t skate with me in the games. My girlfriend of the previous 2 ½ years dumped me and I had abdominal surgery. Gingerly back on the ice weeks before my doctor OK’d me to skate. I placed an ad in a skating magazine for a partner.

I auditioned Linda Carney at 5 am at the old SkyRink on the 16th floor of a midtown NYC office building. She was not much more than a beginner but she was enthusiastic and my coach took us on as a pair team.

Everything about figure skating’s debut in the Gay Games was beyond my wildest dreams. I was thrilled to be impacting a sport that I never thought I could even be a part of. Never before had there been a figure skating competition that welcomed men skating with men and women with women. The creativity in costuming was phenomenal. Skaters and spectators alike braved the long subway ride to Coney Island to be a part of history.

There are iconic images from that week, as well as stories that have been largely untold.

One of the most glorious ice dance performances in GG IV was completely unplanned. Stephane Vachon of Edmonton, Alberta arrived in NY without his partner, who was unwell. He was a very accomplished ice dancer. I was in the arena for ice dance practice and grabbed the mic to ask if there was anyone who could fill in. Charles Sinek was there as the coach of two women who were beginning ice dancers. He was qualified but hadn’t brought his skates. My second ask on the mic resulted in Wade Corbett loaning his freestyle skates (different than ice dance skates) to Charlie. The men did an amazing practice and competed in black tights with the women’s black and gold blouses, looking positively Olympic.


Trevor Kruse and Darren Singbiel of Toronto in skating protest against “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell."

Trevor Kruse and Darren Singbiel of Toronto brought down the house with their beautifully skated emotional response to Bill Clinton’s disappointing “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy about gays in the military.

Mark Hurd and J P Martin of Montreal stunned with overhead lifts in costumes that looked like they had tattooed their entire bodies. They had been thrown out of their rink for practicing together.

Lisa Clinton performed topless in the Exhibition. I still laugh at people’s reactions. Many men in the audience were stunned. I knew Lisa and was actually not surprised. It was a time when the only advertisers in gay magazines and cable tv shows were men’s underwear and men’s phone sex lines, Lesbians had to be subjected to men’s bodies all the time if we wanted to be up on the news. Gay men didn’t seem to think of women as sexual beings. Many of the same men who delighted in former US National competitor, Wynn Miller, skating to “Spartacus” in a bit of leather with obvious piercings, reacted quite differently to Lisa baring her breasts.

My solo program in a rainbow unitard glittering with crystal was skated to Barbra Streisand singing “I Can Do It”. It reflected everything about my life at that moment. The costume was a labor of love that took over 6 months of hand beading. Years later I presented it to Rose Mary Mitchell for the Gay Games Archives in the San Francisco Library.

The pairs number I skated with Linda to Doris Day’s “Secret Love” had exactly the impact that I intended when I proposed the music, However, the magnitude of that impact exceeded my wildest expectations. A photo of the choreographed kiss at the end of our program was blasted by the AP to newspapers all over the world.

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Post 11 of 40 - 7 August The Big Event, Games Change The World, Scholarships

“Passing The Torch: Ruby Anniversary Edition” is a factual timeline of the major events that have been part of the Gay Games evolution since its inception. The series will run from 28 July 2022 - one month before the 40th anniversary of the original Opening Ceremony at San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium - through 5 September, the anniversary of Gay Games I Closing Ceremony. All postings will remain online and available for viewing at the FGG website.

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FGG website home page, February 2000

GENE DERMODY: The decade 1992 through 2002 was the most productive for the FGG because of the accomplishments of the Sports Committee under the direction Of Teresa Galetti. It was an honor to serve with her for a time on that committee as her co-chair, with members Rick Van Tassell, Allen Wood, Laura Moore, et al. Armed with the “Red Book,” this Sports Committee team could efficiently modify Sport Rules, add a sport, monitor a host’s progress, do research on sensitive topics, and make recommendations to the FGG Board.

One of the key factors that contributed to this explosion of FGG productivity was Technology. Most FGG people were either computer illiterates or using incompatible software that did not support SHARING of documents very well. Email was not readily available, and the FGG operated with Snail Mail and paper. Even teleconference calls were a financial and technical barrier. As the de-facto Officer of Technology, I pushed through IT standards for documents and communication. Just before NYC 1994, I brought on wrestler Erich Richter, an award-winning web professional, to build out the FGG’s first website and internal communications. It included one of the first interactive on-line Discussion Boards, “The IntraNets” for fostering real time discussions by topic. It was wild and unmoderated, but it allowed for the searchable documentation legally required for what led to FGG Policy changes.

* * *


Gay Games VI banners in Sydney, 2002

RICHARD HOGAN: After our unsuccessful bid to host Gay Games V in Sydney, a few of us on the bid team set out a strategy to win the right to host Gay Games VI. As many people reading this would know, it is a long journey from considering a bid to host a Gay Games to successfully delivering the event. Sydney’s 2002 Gay Games, while not without difficult issues, will remain in my mind as the most special Gay Games.

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Scholarship recipients at Gay Games VII, Chicago in 2006

JEFFRY PIKE: In 1995, when Roy M. Coe’s family and the Federation of Gay Games (FGG) reached an agreement about the transfer of the Coe Scholarship funds, I learned that Roy identified me, to be the Federation of Gay Games Director of the fund, and his brother, Jerome Coe, to represent the Coe family. This honor soothed my feelings of loss for my friend; it also pushed me to truly see the world beyond my local community and to grasp the complexities of comparing needs across different countries, continents, genders, cultures, and underrepresented demographics (Roy always had a knack for pushing me out of my comfort zone).

The first distribution from the Coe Scholarship Fund went to Leonie van Bommel, who had been the administrator of the Outreach Program for Gay Games V - Amsterdam (1998). The scholarship made it possible for van Bommel to travel to an FGG annual meeting to talk about Amsterdam’s process for awarding scholarships.

In the spirit of Roy’s interviewing participants for his book, I began the practice of interviewing as many recipients of the Scholarship as possible, and attending their Gay Games event. Coincidently to Roy, Leonie started her connection with the Gay Games when she “walked into the Gay Games office to volunteer.” She was asked to be the administrator for the Outreach Program. Her response was “Yes, I’d love to.”

In addition to talking about the challenges of establishing criteria for making tough decisions, Leonie noted that some of her greatest memories of the Games occurred when outreach recipients came to the Friendship Village to check in.

“Having done so much work communicating with outreach participants, seeing names go by on a [computer] screen, on applications, on letters, after the intense work to make all the arrangements, to [then] put a face to the name gave me warm feelings – and to feel in return the warmth, happy faces, enthusiasm, they were glad to be at the [Games].”

— Leonie van Bommell, Outreach Program, Gay Games V - Amsterdam (1998)

To see a 2017 promotional video about the FGG Scholarship Program, click HERE.

To see a 2006 video about the Scholarship Program at Gay Games VII, click HERE.


* * *


Memorial Moment, 2016 Annual Meeting, Sydney AU
To see a video of the 2016 Memorial Moment, click HERE

BRENT NICHOLSON EARLE: At GGIV: New York 1994, I remember getting my participant’s packet and being horrified by the lack of AIDS information in it. Not even a condom. I realized it was up to the Federation to take the mantle on AIDS information. At the next FGG annual meeting we created a Wellness Task Force. By 1996 we had lost a lot of people to AIDS and to breast cancer. The task force focused not just on spreading information, but also about paying tribute to those we’ve lost.

We began holding a Memorial Moment at each FGG annual meeting, beginning in 1997 in Denver. Initially it was a simple quilt unfolding with a reading of the names of people we had lost. People could leave written memorials on the quilt.

The Memorial Moments are now treasured parts of the Gay Games as well as FGG meetings. They have beautifully incorporated music and local customs.

See a video of the 2020 virtual Memorial Moment by clicking HERE.

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Post 12 of 40 - 8 August Gay Games V

“Passing The Torch: Ruby Anniversary Edition” is a factual timeline of the major events that have been part of the Gay Games evolution since its inception. The series will run from 28 July 2022 - one month before the 40th anniversary of the original Opening Ceremony at San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium - through 5 September, the anniversary of Gay Games I Closing Ceremony. All postings will remain online and available for viewing at the FGG website.

* * *

JESSICA WADDELL-LEWINSTEIN: In Amsterdam, I remember hanging out at the softball fields cheering on my mom’s team as they went for the gold. I remember standing on stage in front of thousands of people with my mom. I was only 13, but I remember basking in the energy of the crowd. It was beautiful. There were so many people, so many faces, so many cultures, so many cities and countries represented. I felt like I was swimming in love.

* * *

JOAN MIRÓ: I’m Joan Miró, founder and first president of the LGTBIQ+ sport club in Barcelona, Panteres Grogues.

Gay Games V: Amsterdam 1998 was my first experience in a large scale tournament and it was definitely a life-changing experience at all levels, personally, and as an activist for LGTBIQ+ rights. At that time, our club had already started some sporting activities, but it was not officially founded. Nevertheless 3 members of our soccer team were able to attend the event.

The whole city of Amsterdam showed a passion for what was going on during those magical days in August. All main squares in downtown had a stage where locals and Gay Games participants got together every night to celebrate diversity, inclusion, culture and sports.

Being at Gay Games V in Amsterdam allowed us to make contacts with people; share experiences, learn and network with more experienced people. It empowered our small group to go further, and we officially founded the club just 2 years later.

But it was not just that, since it has impacted the future of the club in so many ways that no one could have expected then.

Living the amazing atmosphere that we all felt during those days made us think that we wanted to host an LGTBIQ+ sports festival in Barcelona. That was the reason why in 2005 we bid for EuroGames Barcelona 2008, the first time that a large scale LGTBIQ+ sporting event took place in Southern Europe and in a spanish speaking country.

* * *

RICHARD HOGAN: The Amsterdam Gay Games were my first to attend as Team Sydney’s delegate to the FGG. Having participated in a few FGG Annual Meetings prior to Amsterdam, including one held in Sydney (which was part of our strategy to win the bid to host the 2002 Gay Games), I experienced the week in many new ways. Of course it is always nice to leave behind an Australian winter for a Gay Games during a northern hemisphere summer. The Dutch welcomed us with an enjoyable Canal Parade which I believe was the first of the now annual event. It was a lovely afternoon with many people waving from the shore as the FGG’s boat passed by. I was especially proud when we saw a plane fly overhead with a banner promoting the Sydney Gay Games set for 2002.

At the Gay Games V Opening Ceremony I was impressed by the performance of the transgender Israeli pop singer, Dana International who had earlier that year won the 1998 Eurovision Song Contest. She set the tone for what would be an interesting week.

I participated in Volleyball and while we didn’t win any games, our team had a great time. Each morning before going to the Volleyball tournament I had breakfast at my hotel. The local Amsterdam newspaper was delivered under my door but unfortunately I couldn’t read it so I just enjoyed looking at the photos. First the story was about Amsterdam welcoming the world during the Opening Ceremony, all happy, happy. Then as the week went on, the headlines started looking a bit more serious so I asked the breakfast waitress to translate. Her English was not very good; all she could say was “it’s not very good.” It wasn’t long before we all knew there were serious financial issues threatening the event. Thankfully the local business leaders and others (both straight and gay) put their resources together to ensure the Amsterdam Gay Games were an enjoyable, successful, and memorable event.

During the week, I spent much time with a Dutch friend, then living in New York but who lived in Amsterdam when he was younger. After dinner one evening, Johannas and I passed by the gay bar which he frequented when he was coming out some twenty years earlier. He was surprised to see people there because the bar had been closed for many years. As we entered, we found out that the bar had reopened only for this one night to celebrate the Gay Games. It was such a special occasion as he joined a few old friends, all with stories to tell about their younger days. The bar was very small and as it was open for only one night, patrons were only allowed one drink so others could enter. As we left there was a long queue of locals excited about revisiting their old pub. For me, I will always remember that night when I see the Gay Games V motto, “Friendship.”

* * *

DEREK LIECTY: At Gay Games V: Amsterdam 1998, over seventy-five countries were represented. The Scholarship Program of which I was a Co-Chair for several years allowed individuals from under-represented countries to attend the Games and walk into a stadium with thousands gays and lesbians and finally say to themselves, “At last I know I am not alone.”

* * *

JAMES HAHN: Gay Games V brought us out of North America for the first time. It was also my first time in Europe as well. Amsterdam certainly brought out the red carpet for thousands of participants. The opening and dosing ceremonies were masterfully produced, including a live performance by The Weather Girls!

This Games required the most travel of any Games thus far since very few venues were in Amsterdam proper. One of the bowling centers, about 45 minutes out of town, actually had a 1957 Buick Special in it. The bowling organizers got a lesson in flexibility. At the first bowling venue (of three), due to “proper attire” standards at the time, we were told that if you were wearing short pants, you would not be permitted to bowl. About 40% of us were wearing shorts. They, and nearly everyone else, threatened to walk out unless the unannounced dress code was not enforced.

Thankfully, the venue organizers had a thoughtful change of heart, and the event went on as scheduled. At the Closing Ceremony, I met a couple from Portland, Oregon. I ran into them about a week later when I traveled to Salzburg, Austria to take in the Maria Von Trapp Memorial Tour. This is where I learned an important lesson in proper attire for evenings out in Europe.

* * *

KATE ROWE: By the time of Gay Games V: Amsterdam 98, I had taken up cycle racing back in Australia and had improved. It was a wonderful Games because Amsterdam was small enough to feel we had taken over the city. Also, being in Europe gave the Games an added flavour and I won three medals. I met up with friends from previous games and made new ones.

* * *

LAURA MOORE: I had looked forward to skating in Amsterdam without having to do all the work. Local organizers didn’t want my input and assured me that they had a sanction from the Dutch Governing body of Figure Skating. It was the eve of my departure when I learned that the sanction only covered Dutch skaters. Skaters from anywhere else in the world could lose their ability to ever compete again if they participated.

The flight from NY to Amsterdam was full of stress. I had recently married MaryAnn Bellomo in an “illegal ceremony” presided over by Brent Nicholson Earle. I had told her that she would have an amazing time. As I checked email before leaving our apartment there were already misleading posts about what was happening. I was crying and she was extremely upset.

Our flight got us to the skaters’ welcome party just as it started. In disbelief over the rosy picture being painted of the event to come, I realized that I had to do one of the most difficult things I had ever done. I literally shouted over the organizers and broke the news to the skaters, many of them friends who had come at my urging. I told them there was no sanctioning in place that would allow them to skate without sacrificing their future competitive careers.

In 1994, I brought my sport into the Gay Games. In 1998, I shut it down. The competition was canceled and a decision made to hold “public practices” instead. Refunds were offered to all spectators even as they were encouraged to “donate” the cost of their tickets.

Rumors blaming the International Skating Union (ISU) for homophobia were rampant. While I knew that the ISU was homophobic, the basic truth was that they had not been asked for a sanction and no fees had been paid to them. No one wanted to listen to my defense of ISU.

Some of the skaters left Amsterdam immediately, travelling in Europe Instead. Those of us who stayed, practiced, and performed multiple times for as many audiences as possible. The week was a blur.

I cried a lot in Amsterdam. I ran into Kathleen Webster and Teresa Galetti in a restroom in the Friendship Village. They were on the FGG board. They listened to me sob and told me that IGFSU (International Gay Figure Skating Union) should apply for membership in the FGG, so nothing like this would ever happen again.

IGFSU became a member organization of The FGG in 1999 at the annual meeting in Berlin.

One of the skaters in Amsterdam was fellow New Yorker, Bradley Erickson. He had seen the competition in 1994 and began taking skating lessons from one of the Gay Games skaters. In our first meeting, Bradley and I discussed how things had changed in figure skating in 4 short years. The ISU had stepped in to require fees and sanctions for skating events, including made for TV ones that were new on the scene. We had no interest in working with them since same gender partnering and freedom from gender proscriptions in costuming were paramount for us.

We knew that Ice Skating Institute of America would be a perfect partner for us. As the governing body of recreational figure skating, ISIA had founding principles in line with the Gay Games, Participation, Inclusion, and Personal Best. They had categories for everyone from beginners to world class skaters. They even allowed same gender partners to skate together! This rule was designed to accommodate little girls in a sport where little boys were few and far between, but Linda and I had tried out both our programs at ISIA competitions.

Bradley picked up the phone and reached out to ISIA, cutting right to the chase: We were gay and wanted to hold ISIA events with same gender partners of all ages. I sat petting his dog in his office listening to him thank them for recognizing that who we were didn’t matter!

IGFSU became an ISIA Administrative Member and worked with what is now ISI on a series of amazing Gay Games events. IGFSU/ISI were written into the FGG Sports “Red Book” as the official governing bodies for figure skating at the Gay Games.

* * *

EMY RITT: As many have written and stated, attending the Amsterdam Gay Games was a magical experience. Like most participants, especially first-timers, we were swept away by the spirit of friendship and liberty as the event took over the entire city with its more than 14,000 participants.

Of course, we, the Participants, were not aware in any way that behind the scenes, the City of Amsterdam had magnificently stepped up to provide financing and resources for GGV after it had become evident that adequate funds had not been secured by members of the organizing team, some of whom had abruptly and prematurely departed. I mention this only to stress how well GGV was executed and how supportive the City of Amsterdam was during the entire week, despite the unexpected challenges. Also, the outstanding work of the remaining members of the Amsterdam Organizing Team are to be recognized and applauded. In 2007, I had the great privilege of meeting the GGV Director of Sports.

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