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"Passing The Torch" Post 10 of 40

06 Aug 2022 10:37 | Douglas Litwin (Administrator)

Gay Games IV

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 10 of 40 - 6 August Gay Games IV

“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.

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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.”

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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.

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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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