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.
Read the entire "Passing The Torch" series as it is posted daily HERE.
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
Read the entire "Passing The Torch" series as it is posted daily HERE.