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"Passing The Torch" Post 16a of 40

12 Aug 2022 10:03 | Douglas Litwin (Administrator)

Gay Games VII - Part A

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 16a of 40 - 12 August Gay Games VII
15 - 22 July 2006; 11,000 participants, Chicago, IL 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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Aimee Pine, GGVII Director of Scholarships. To see a terrific video recapping the Scholarship Program in Chicago, click HERE

JEFFRY PIKE: For Gay Games VII - Chicago, an FGG Scholarship Committee was formed to work with the host’s scholarship coordinator, Aimee Pine, to distribute the scholarship funds for which the Federation of Gay Games had fiscal responsibility – including the Coe Scholarship Fund. The committee – originally including Paul Oostenbrug, Laura Moore, Derek Liecty, and me – wrestled with the nuance and challenges of comparing needs and ensured that applicants were actually in need of support and demonstrated a true interest in participating in the Games. We also embraced the need for translators, if possible, to remove language hurdles for applicants.

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Jeffry Pike and Laura Moore evaluating Scholarship applications prior to Gay Games VII

LAURA MOORE: My involvement with the scholarship program began with a call from Paul Oostenbrug asking if I would be interested in scoring essays from scholarship applicants for the Chicago Gay Games.

Jeffry Pike came to NY from Boston and Paul from Chicago. The three of us sat at my dining room table in tears as we read through a box of letters, many handwritten and not all in languages we could understand. It was a stunning experience.

The late Dick Uyvari and Joe LaPat, GGVII Scholarship Program Patrons

The collaboration between FGG and the host in Chicago on the Scholarship program was excellent. Dick Uyvari and Joe LaPat financed most of the program. Having them as benefactors and getting to know them in Chicago was wonderful. When I met the scholarship recipients in Chicago, I realized that I would need to be involved with the Scholarship Committee long term.

Gay Games VII Scholarship reception; GGVII Co-Chairs Sam Coady and Suzi Arnold addressing the recipients. Photos: R. Mitchell

The scholarship recipients were housed together in Chicago, creating a great bonding experience for them and the opportunity for us to get to hear their stories. I will never forget everyone pointing out where they were from on the world map in the hostel. Sometimes communication doesn’t require a common language.

In the Gay Games since then, we have organized both orientation sessions and end of the week workshops. These workshops have enabled us to help the recipients prepare to go home and share what they have learned in their home countries, extending the reach of the Gay Games.

A few scholarship recipients have gone on to create LGBTQ+ organizations in their home countries after their Gay Games experiences. Among the greatest success stories are Konstantin Yablotskiye’s work in helping create the Russian LGBT Sport Federation, Fernando Carvajal’s Club Deportivo Movdeinchile, and Hlengiwe Buthelezi work in South Africa. Hlengiwe has served on the FGG Board of Directors for a number of years.

I had no experience in fundraising and very limited computer knowledge when Paul challenged me to do a crowd-funding campaign when we were without major benefactors. I didn’t even know what that was but I managed to create a successful campaign on Indigogo for the Gay Games Scholarship Program for GG IV.

I have been inspired to recognize the Gay Games scholarship program in my will and encourage others to do the same as well as to donate/fundraise in any way they can.

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Gay Games VII Opening Ceremony, Soldier Field, Chicago; Papua New Guinea scholarship recipients at the event. Photos: Brett Grafton

KURT DAHL: The first time I heard about the Gay Games was in 2001 when the Chicago bid team was looking for volunteers. I thought it was cool that Chicago was looking to host GGVII in 2006 and I wanted in, both as a volunteer and as an athlete. I not only joined the finance committee of the bid team, but I also dusted off my high school swimsuit and goggles and got back into the pool to prepare for GGVII.

Once it was announced that Chicago had actually won the bid for GGVII after the bidding was re-opened, I joined the board of the Chicago host team and eventually was named Treasurer of the host organization. We had to hit the ground running as July 2006 was right around the corner. My husband Jeff and I along with many others from the board traveled around the US to register people for GGVII. I was also able to participate in some swim meets which I had not done in over 15 years. It was so exciting to be back in the pool and competing, and meeting people to talk about the Gay Games. For me the Gay Games had an enormous impact on who I am today.

I still get chills thinking about the week of July 2006 when GGVII opened in Soldier Field, and how it drew together the queer community not only of the Chicago metropolitan area but the entire Midwest. I still get teary eyed remembering the Closing Ceremony at Wrigley Field and realizing all our hard work had paid off and GGVII was now over.

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KATE ROWE: I became a volunteer with the FGG Sports Committee organising the Cycling event. Our expertise was welcome due the fact that with the split with the next host city Montreal, Chicago only had 2 years to organise.

I went to Chicago in 2005 as Team Sydney representative to the FGG. I was getting more and more involved at a different level, wanting to improve and contribute to making the games grow and develop.

The Cycling was in danger of being cancelled so I went to Chicago early to help. With a team effort and great support from Chicago organisers, the Cycling was a success.

Cyndi Lauper at the GGVII Closing Ceremony, Wrigley Field. Photos: Becker Media.

The split was bound to affect numbers, having two games in two countries meant fewer went to either. That said, it was still a wonderful experience. By now, I had become a triathlete and took part in that event. Very well organised and HOT! Great memories of Cindy Lauper at the Closing Ceremony.

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GGVII Opening Ceremony presentation of the Tom Waddell Award recipients. Jessica Waddell Lewinstein is at far right. Photo: Becker Media.

JESSICA WADDELL-LEWINSTEIN: In Chicago, I finally had the opportunity to dedicate myself to the Games; and to start what would become a long and successful career in marketing and communications with the games. I remember the exuberance that filled the air as a long line of athletes from all over the world awaited their chance to walk onto Soldier Field.

I remember helping my mentor Tracy Baim (Windy City Times Editor In Chief and Gay Games VII’s Co-Vice Chair) assign photographers to different sports and meet with key stakeholders. I remember spending long days working the press room (and drinking far too much Red Bull to help get me through it). I remember the pride I felt for both myself and my colleagues as we walked out onto Wrigley Field at the end of the event. The experience filled my heart full of love, and gave me a family bonded not by blood, but a common interest in bringing people together. I remember this being one of the best jobs I ever had.

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Gay Games VII Closing Ceremony, Wrigley Field. Photo: Alice Cooperman

EMY RITT: Chicago scheduled GGVII to be held from 5 to 15 July 2006. With barely two years to organize the Gay Games, with all of its 30+ sports and many cultural activities, Chicago persevered to put on a wonderful event, despite the stifling heat. Like all Gay Games events, the financial, logistical, and political challenges were (and are) never-ending. Yet, Chicago overcame the odds and, at great personal sacrifice for several members of the Organizing Team put on a wonderful week of sports, culture, and ceremonies. Special thanks go to the entire Chicago Organizing team, including Sam Coady, Suzi Arnold, Kevin Boyer, and Tracy Baim.

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HLENGIWE BUTHELEZI: I was a South African flag bearer and at the peak of my fitness and in the prime of my athletic career. At least I had a clue by then of what the Gay Games are and how things work. I was mostly out in the track running or cheering up my friends - many that I had met in Sydney. My personal best Gay Games: 7 Gold medals!!! I ended up on the front page of the Windy City Times newspaper with Cindy Lauper who came to sing at the Closing Ceremony. I mostly hung out with the San Diego ladies that were led by Eurika Otto and Lauri Stock. They introduced me to others like Mandy Sapsford (former South African), a very bubbly and kind mate.

The idea of founding a Queer organisation that will be sports orientated for Durban was born, so I went back home to share it with other like-minded and KwaZulu Natal LGBT Recreation was born which later on founded African Queer Sports (AfroGames). And I became an FGG Assembly member while I was in Chicago.

I also played a lead role for the South African Gay Games Bid finalist which we lost to Cologne.

Back home I suffered a forced coming out which affected me and my running carrier badly.

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Sydney Stingers Water Polo team at Gay Games VII. Shamey Cramer is in the back row at far right

SHAMEY CRAMER: Because of work, I was unable to participate in the entire week of competition. Since my home team of WH2O-polo already had four goal-keepers, the chance of me playing any amount of time was slim to none. Given that these Games were going to be in my hometown, it seemed as if my hopes of having a memorable experience were dimming by the day. And then, a light.

A few weeks before the Games, the Sydney Stingers put out a call for independent players to join them. Like so many other teams from around the world, they already had plans in place to go to Montreal, based on their initial selection as Gay Games VII host.

Like so many others, The Stingers were able to send about 7-8 players, but needed a dozen or so to field a team. I contacted Pascal Van de Walle, the Sydney team representative, and informed him I was interested, but could only play two days. He was still very welcoming and grateful. After he informed me they had no goalie coming to Chicago, he was all the more excited, regardless of my low skills. As he put it: “low skills are better than no skills, and it means that none of the rest of us have to be in the cage!” I knew I was going to like this guy.

I arrived in Chicago the day before Opening Ceremony. I agreed to meet the Stingers at their hotel, where I was issued my Opening Ceremony t-shirt and shorts, and met the team for the first time: Captain Dave, Tim, Jason, Shandor, and Pascal. I wasn’t the only pick-up player; there were several others, which made it all the more fun.

Leading Team Los Angeles into the Gay Games I Closing Ceremony and Gay Games VI Opening Ceremony were awfully special. But I gotta tell ya: walking onto Soldier Field for the Gay Games VII Opening Ceremony as a rank and file member in the middle of the sea of Australian athletes and artists was definitely a huge rush of adrenaline as we were awash in massive amounts of unconditional love from the spectators. Everyone loves the Aussies, no matter where they go!

In the end, my two days of being the sole goalkeeper for the Sydney Stingers – mediocre as I was - turned out to be my favourite Gay Games competition of the three I played. Given that we won two of our three matches, I ended with a .667 record at Gay Games VII. I had over a dozen family members and friends come to see the three matches we played in those two days. My niece Jenna showed up wearing Australian green and gold colours – face paint and all – and my Uncle Frank, with his booming Merchant Marine voice bellowing throughout the natatorium, led the stands in a rousing rendition of “Waltzing Mathilda.”

Of course, my Aussie teammates thought we were absolutely crazy, but it was nice to continue with our family tradition of doing everything we can to make sure visitors feel welcomed and loved in our home, the “City of Big Shoulders.”

My West Hollywood teammates went home with the Gold Medal, but the friendships I gained playing for Sydney are everlasting, and remain strong to this day. A part of me will always remain true to my Sydney Stingers.

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RICHARD HOGAN: The team in Chicago did an amazing job in such a short amount of time while setting a new benchmark for the Gay Games! Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the Gay Games in Chicago but I did get to know many of those who helped produce the event. During the 2005 FGG Annual Meeting in Chicago I met with the Australian Consul General to prepare plans for an Aussie reception during GGVII. It was then that a consulate staff member told me there was a friendly rivalry between Australian Consulates as to who put on the best reception for Gay Games participants.

There was a big push to promote Chicago’s Gay Games in Sydney, the previous host city, and many Australians attended their second Gay Games in Chicago. The 2006 “International Rainbow Memorial Run” went down Oxford Street just prior to the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade to thunderous applause.

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Gay Games VII Cheerleading Demonstration Event in Millennium Park, Chicago. Photos: Betty Lark Ross

ANTHONY ALSTON: My first Gay Games was GGVII: Chicago 2006. CHEER SF managed to fundraise enough money to subsidize expenses for those traveling to the Midwest. We brought roughly 30 cheerleaders along with our sister teams: CHEER LA, CHEER NY, Chicago Spirit Brigade, Edmonton, and CHEER Atlanta. Thanks to CHEER SF’s leadership (Sanford Smith, Morgan Craig, and Steve “Mama Burke”) these were the Games that CHEER had a more visible role by participating in Opening Ceremony and hosting our own exhibition in Millennium Park.

Talking about that experience still gives me chills. I recall tears of joy coming down my face in the middle of Soldier Field during the Opening Ceremony. I was so happy to be there with my team, my people. Gay people! We dropped two teammates due to heat exhaustion moments before taking the stage. I’ll never forget the 100 degree temperature with 100% humidity during our flawless exhibition performance. I felt like I found something truly special in my life. Thousands of participants from around the world engaged in a movement that was transformative to one’s own being. It was the Olympic experience. Thrilling and fulfilling. I can say that because I worked in Centennial Park during the XXVI Olympiad in Atlanta 1996.

The Gay Games delivered an experience that extends far beyond any Pride ever could; even the likes of San Francisco or New York. The Games offer more than just “sex, drugs and rock-n-roll.” People had been training, rehearsing, and saving money for this particular moment. A moment of accomplishment. A moment advocating for our rights, as members of the LGBTQ+ community, as global citizens. Towards the end of the week, I recall being sad during the GGVII Closing Ceremony because my exciting week was coming to a close. Cindy Lauper sang “True Colors” at Wrigley Field and that was a wrap. However, when the next host city for GGVIII: Cologne, Germany 2010 was announced, I was galvanized in the movement and wanted others to experience something similar at future Gay Games. It was the perfect blend of large-scale events, charitable cheerleading, and community engagement.

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

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