By Roger Brigham
I was disappointed to miss out on the chance to make history at the first Gay Games in 1982 in San Francisco – but am delighted to have the opportunity to make history this year at Gay Games XI in Guadalajara.
Roger Brigham at the 2019 FGG annual meeting in Guadalajara
Come November, I’ll be one of the longtime Gay Games supporters greeting athletes and artists, coaches and officials, as they gather in the land of tequila and mariachi to wrestle and run, cheer and shoot, dance and dive, in what has proven to be one of the most enduring and valuable institutions our community has ever supported.
For years we have listened to lamentations as a global pandemic and political upheaval posed threats to one event after another. It often appeared the Gay Games would be among the casualties. Those fears overlooked one reality:
The Gay Games are athlete strong.
Instead of stepping back, the Gay Games are stepping up and breaking new ground. For the first time, this will not be one event held in Europe, Australia, or the United States: it will be simultaneous events in Asia and Latin America. For the first time, it will be in an odd-numbered year, pandemic-delayed for the first time in the quadrennial cycle so athletes and artists will not be hindered by governmental travel restrictions.
Opening Ceremonies for Gay Games XI will be held November 3 in Hong Kong and Guadalajara. Hong Kong was originally selected to host the Gay Games, but when COVID travel restrictions made it unrealistic to expected 12,000-plus athletes and artists to gather in 2022, the event was postponed for one year and Guadalajara, which had already bid to host the Gay Games, was named as co-host.
The Gay Games freestyle wrestling and grappling tournament will be hosted by Guadalajara at Polideportivo Alcalde II and sanctioned by Wrestlers WithOut Borders. As Chairman Emeritus of WWB, I have been sitting in on discussions with organizers as they make final arrangements. Already a critical mass of registrants is assured.
Wrestler Carlin Yetts of Ohio and I will be coaching a dozen or so wrestlers from Australia in Guadalajara – a circumstance that illustrates what a magically different and invaluable sort of sporting event the Gay Games are.
Consider that when I showed up to wrestle at the inaugural 1982 Gay Games, I was not allowed to compete because I hadn’t received the registration information in Alaska. Job and health circumstances kept me out of the following five Gay Games until I finally was able to wrestle in the 2006 Gay Games VII in Chicago, winning gold.
But for three years before I got on the mat in Chicago, I worked as a volunteer and coach in the Gay Games Movement. As I served on committees, led policy discussions, and spearheaded communications initiatives, I grew more and more in love with the inclusive culture of the movement and its member organizations. I had long taken for granted the rich sports competition opportunities I benefited from in my athletic youth. I became more and more committed to helping nurture those opportunities for others from all walks of life.
Roger Brigham with fellow FGG and Wrestling legend Gene Dermody
At the 2010 Gay Games VIII in Cologne, I made friends with three wrestlers from Sydney, Australia. It was an enjoyable, positive experience, and so it was only natural I should coach their larger squad four years later in Cleveland. In 2018 I had a kidney transplant but was on a plane just five weeks later, flying to Paris to coach not just the Sydney team, but a new team from Melbourne – then flew to Australia just months later to coach clinics in both of those cities.
I believe the emergence of growing numbers of Australians at the Gay Games is symbolic of the success of the Games and underlines the important role the Gay Games play in the greater LGBTQ+ sports movement. For four decades the Gay Games have fought to break down our geographic isolation and improve the quality and variety of competition experiences we can access. The wrestling / grappling tournament will provide my Aussie wrestlers with the chance to test themselves against wrestlers with skill sets they rarely get to face back home.
I am particularly excited about the chance to be part of the history that will be made in Mexico. There have been pockets of growth in LGBTQ+ sports in many parts of Latin America and this will be the best opportunity to bring them together in the Gay Games Movement. Guadalajara is a fun and welcoming host; it hosted the Pan American Games in 2011, is a tourism hub for Central and Latin America, and Puerto Vallarta is just a quick trip away! I was fortunate enough to visit Guadalajara four years ago on Federation of Gay Games business and found the city delightful, the weather great, the people hospitable, and the food delicious.
The mariachi and the tequila? Well, they speak for themselves.
Here’s looking forward to our chance to make history together.
Learn more about Gay Games XI in Guadalajara HERE
Learn more about Gay Games XI Wrestling registration HERE
Learn more about Wrestlers WithOut Borders HERE
Learn more about Gay Games 11 in Hong Kong HERE