Log in

"Passing The Torch" Post 32a of 40

27 Aug 2022 23:34 | Douglas Litwin (Administrator)

Gay Games I Opening Ceremony


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 32a of 40 - 28 August: 1982 - Gay Games I Opening Ceremony

“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.

* * *

Lighting of the torch at Gay Games I by George Frenn (L) and Susan McGrievy (R). Photo: Lisa Kanemoto

To see a video of the Gay Games I Opening Ceremony and the lighting of the torch by Olympian Susan McGrievy, click HERE

To see an interview with Susan McGrievy about the GGI Opening Ceremony , click HERE

Chris Van Scoyk at Gay Games II in 1986

CHRIS VAN SCOYK: The Opening Ceremony was held at Kezar Stadium and it was an unforgettable feeling of pride and exhilaration to march together with our team and teams from around the world. And dancing with Dana Cox from Seattle while listening to Tina Turner sing was totally sublime. Gosh, we were lucky to be part of the first Gay Games. For sure an experience that was a highlight of my life. San Francisco was so welcoming and we were treated like celebrities wherever we went in the city. I will never forget the emotions of that time. We knew we were making history for our community.

* * *

Entrance of the Board of Directors. Sara Waddell Lewinstein is third from the right, alongside Tom Waddell. Photo: Lisa Kanemoto

The Gay Games Board on stage at the Opening Ceremony

SARA WADDELL-LEWINSTEIN: My first memory is of the Board of Directors marching around the field at Kezar Stadium while leading the participating athletes to the stage. I had recently become the Co-Sports Director for the Games, after previously working on the Board of Directors as the Bowling Co-Chair and Women's Outreach Lead. Standing alongside me was Chris Puccinelli, Zohn Artman, and Dr. Tom Waddell. And as we lined up, alternating between men and women, we held hands, full of excitement and pride for having been able to successfully kick off this incredible event that brought us all together.

* * *

The Gay Games I Opening Ceremony. Photo: Lisa Kanemoto

JACK GONZALES: My arrival in San Francisco for Gay Games started in the Castro district. We had to register with photo IDs at a school. It is also where we met our host (for those of us who requested housing). I recall the city being very active with the influx of thousands of people. San Francisco was the perfect city to host these first Games. AIDS / HIV was around, but still in the early stages. One saw no evidence or concern about this soon to be Gay Epidemic. Everyone was in a joyous mood. The City was very busy. Restaurants and bars/nightclubs were packed nightly.

The San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Marching Band and Twirling Corps performing at the GGI Opening Ceremony 

For its first large scale event of this magnitude, it was well organized with no noticeable mishaps. It definitely helped if you were the type of person that can move forward in any circumstance. I recall the Opening Ceremony at Kezar Stadium. All the different cities and countries were dressed to represent their respective teams. It was very inspiring with a splash of awe when we walked into the stadium. There were so many people in the stands. The athletes walked into the stadium with their team/city. We stood / sat while we listened to the various speakers. The entertainment was Tina Turner. She was magnificent. She gave everyone additional energy through her singing & music. It was wild. At the conclusion, everyone emptied the venue on their way to dinner, dancing or wherever.

* * *

The Gay Games I stage where Ken Ward and his fellow musicians were supposed to play. Armistead Maupin is speaking

KEN WARD: A jazz band which had been recently formed out of the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Marching Band and Twirling Corps, and was run by an absolutely CRAZY musician named Guy Foster-Hayden. This preceded the formation of the City Swing Big Band by 2 years. The Foster-Hayden band was asked to open for Tina Turner who was the entertainer for the Opening Ceremony. We were ready to go but were then told that there was a problem with the sound system, so we would have to wait a while. We waited and waited and waited, and eventually were told that the sound system would not be fixed in time for us to play before Tina Turner. BUMMERRRRRRRRR! Our big chance squelched.

The San Francisco Band on the field (left) and with the Los Angeles Band (right)

So we sat in the bleachers at Kezar Stadium watching and listening to the San Francisco and Los Angeles gay bands play and saw the two conductors embrace to loud cheers in the middle of the field.

* * *

Tina Turner wow-ing the GGI Opening Ceremony crowd

DOUG ORLOFF: In San Francisco, I stayed with friends of friends who graciously let me and my partner stay in their spare room. On a side note, that partner and I got together in 1979 in Kansas City and we are still together 43 years later. 

When the Opening Ceremony was starting, we were outside the stadium just like the Olympics, and we marched in as a team under our city flags. We had no idea what to expect. It might just be our loved ones and friends inside the stadium. But as we cleared the tunnel, and walked onto the track, the roar was just crazy. There were thousands of people in the stands cheering us and celebrating like only LGBT+ people can. 

I was walking by Bill Swann and Ron Kirkoff and I couldn’t speak. I was choked up and very emotional. Ron, of course, was cracking jokes and laughing. He had the whole team start waving to the crowd like we were royalty. The mantra was “Furs, pearls, tiaras” as we waved the stiff hand gesture Queen Elizabeth does.

All hell broke loose when Tina Turner performed. That a big star would perform for a gay event was bananas. We danced, we sang, and when she did “Proud Mary,” she tore the place down!

* * *

Team Los Angeles entering the Gay Games I Opening Ceremony

JEFF SHOTWELL: When we arrived in San Francisco, all the swimmers were assigned to different "hosts" who had opened their homes to house many of the gay athletes. I was paired with Bill Swann and our hosts were so welcoming. As a matter of fact, it seemed the entire city of San Francisco layed out the welcome mat for all of the athletes - we were cheered and applauded everywhere we went. It was an unbelievable experience.

I have 2 very fond memories of the Opening Ceremony.  The first was walking into the stadium as the "Los Angeles Team" in our uniforms (t-shirts, I believe) and seeing the massive crowd and all of the people cheering! It was overwhelming and that feeling is seared into my memory. I felt to be a real part of the gay community that day.  The second memory was seeing Tina Turner perform on stage for all of us. Tina Turner! What a performance! The atmosphere in that stadium that day was electric. We all knew we were part of something big, but did we realize we were making HISTORY? I didn't, nor do I think many of my teammates thought we were - at the time. All I knew is I was having a blast with this great group of guys, in a fabulous city, doing something I really loved - swimming.

* * *

(L) Tina Turner wows the crowd at the GGI Opening Ceremony; (R) Team Minnesota at the GGI Opening Ceremony

San Francisco Examiner coverage of Gay Games I. Jean-Nickolaus Tretter (left in glasses) and Team Minnesota teammate Morrie Spang (holding flag)

JEAN-NICKOLAUS TRETTER: I remember Tina Turner. Of course, she had just left Ike Turner, and what I remember is the biggest ongoing discussion was whether she was a lesbian or not. Back in those days, you just didn’t do things like that, performing at a large, all-gay event. A lot of the lesbians took off their shirts. Team Minnesota had 87 participants for Gay Games I - the largest team from outside California.

* * *

Gene Dermody (center) with Team New York members at GGI Opening Ceremony

GENE DERMODY: I wrote this letter (below) to my YMCA training partner soon after the Opening Ceremony, and it was later included in an LGBTQ+ Castro anthology. I was 34 years old, but it reads like I was 15 years old and I had just won my first tournament. This is how life-shattering this Gay Games experience was for me. I gave up my thirteen-year safe, tenured position teaching and coaching in northern New Jersey and moved to San Francisco within six months with no apartment and no job. The Gay Games had exposed the critical mass of the community that I had been desperately searching for in all the wrong places. It was also the best personal and professional decision I could have ever made:

Saturday 28 August 1982 Gay Games Opening Ceremony Outside Kezar Stadium, San Francisco

It is hard being so jaded to convey the absolute feeling of liberation and joy I felt that day at Kezar Stadium. I have never experienced that level of exhilaration since. As preparations were being made inside the stadium, some 1,300 athletes milled about outside for some three hours, in the typical cool fog of San Francisco. We could hear the wild cheering inside, but were not yet sure what they were excited about. Could it be us? Many “travel-challenged” like me, who thought California summer weather was hot and humid, arrived dressed only in shorts, t-shirts, and back-packs, not prepared for the overcast 60-degree chilly winds.

But we didn’t notice our goose bumps. We were too busy checking out the other athletes. Where did they all come from? Like the kids we never allowed ourselves to be, we were soon making new friends, sizing up the caliber of competition, and networking with our alter egos.

The buzz was incessant, but it was a markedly “different” banter for a Gay group: “Where did you Wrestle? Who was coaching at Bakersfield? What weight would Larry Blakeley compete at? How much weight did you cut? Would Title IX kill Princeton’s program? When are the weigh-ins?“..etc. It was as if -everyone- was finally speaking”‘my” language, and I had finally found “my” lost tribe!

As we were ushered into the stadium by city for the “March of the Athletes,” I was handed one of the New York City flags to lead Team NY’s athletes. A warm sun suddenly exploded out from behind the clouds, as if on cue, to announce the entry of gods into Valhalla. I vividly remember Tina Turner singing on stage and crying profusely for no apparent reason. I felt as if I had finally come “Home” after a very long exile.

* * *

Mauro Bordovsky (L) with Shamey Cramer at the Gay Games IX send-off party in Los Angeles

MAURO BORDOVSKY: Entering Kezar for the Gay Games I Opening Ceremony was amazing and emotional. Although I had competed extensively for my University in Brazil, the Gay Games and entering Kezar Stadium was the first time I felt like an Olympic athlete. The city of San Francisco was very welcoming. Many people on the streets, on public transportation, at events, at restaurants, etc. were curious about us athletes, the sport(s) in which we were participating, and how we were doing. Some restaurants even gave free food to gold medalists. I stayed with local hosts, which was a great way to make new friends and get to know a new city.

* * *

Read more about the Opening Ceremony in Post 32b

* * *

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

© 2020 The Federation of Gay Games

The Newsletter of the FGG



584 Castro Street, Suite 343
San Francisco, CA 94114 USA

Phone: +1-866-459-1261

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software