by Shamey Cramer
Left: Mexico City Olympics Opening Ceremony 12 October 1968; Right: Tom Waddell at the Mexico City Olympics
The initial concept to have a sports and cultural festival open to all was born on Saturday 12 October 1968 (exactly 55 years ago today). That was the day when Dr. Thomas F. Waddell, a member of the U.S. Decathlon team, walked into the stadium for the Opening Ceremony of the Mexico City Summer Olympics. As he would later state, he felt as if his heart was going to burst; and that it was something everyone should experience. In the end, it wasn’t about where he finished, but the fact he had participated and did his best.
Given that Tom was an active member of the U.S. military, he was unable to compete openly as a gay man at the 1968 Olympics. It would be more than a decade before he took his idea from Mexico City to create the global sports and cultural festival known as the Gay Games.
Now, 55 years after that initial spark of an idea, the Gay Games will be held in Mexico for the first time. On 04 November, thousands of participants will march into the Metropolitan Sport Center to participate in the Gay Games XI Opening Ceremony. Interestingly, it was on 04 November, 1981, that San Francisco Arts & Athletics, the non-profit organization Dr. Waddell and others created to produce Gay Games I and II in 1982 and 86, was incorporated with the State of California.
Making this occasion even more unique, there will also be a Gay Games sport and culture festival happening in Hong Kong the same week. Hong Kong had originally been chosen to be the sole host for Gay Games XI. However, given the delays and restrictions imposed by the recent global pandemic, the Federation of Gay Games (FGG), the governing body for the Gay Games, felt it best to expand its offerings.
In 2022, at the suggestion of, and approval by, the Hong Kong organizers, the FGG asked the Guadalajara bid team that had been a runner-up to Hong Kong to step in and assist. Thus, for the first time in history, the Gay Games will be held on two continents at the same time. And in both instances, it will be the first time the Gay Games are in either Asia or Latin America.
Although registration numbers will be significantly lower for various reasons, the increase in participation from Latin American and Asian countries will be noticeable. In the Guadalajara aquatics event, for example, nearly forty percent of the registrants are from Mexico, Central and South America. Previous attendance by Latin American athletes at the quadrennial Gay Games, and the annual International Gay & Lesbian Aquatic Championships has been minimal. This will be a huge step forward in building queer sports and culture communities in countries where identifying as a member of the LGBTIQA+ community often requires courage and defiance to come out, often at great personal risk.
In many ways, those participating at these Gay Games will experience many of the same emotions that us Gay Games pioneers felt when we broke barriers participating in the inaugural Gay Games in San Francisco forty-one years ago.
If I have one regret for these Gay Games, it is that my late colleague, Tom Waddell, is not here to welcome the Gay Games back to the country that provided the spark - “la chispa” - that has kept the Gay Games flame shining so brightly all these years.
A tribute video to Dr. Waddell and the history of Mexico participating in the Gay Games has been prepared. To see it, click HERE.
To read more about the history of the Gay Games from its inception to the present day, please click HERE to read the "Passing The Torch" series.
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Shamey Cramer is the founder of Team Los Angeles | West Hollywood and a Gay Games XI Tom Waddell Award finalist. He will once again serve as General Manager for Team LA|WH at Gay Games XI: Guadalajara 2023 and compete in swimming as a member of West Hollywood Aquatics.