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Gay Games 10: Global Unity and Individual Identity

by Jim Gladstone
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Aug 23, 2018
Gay Games 10: Global Unity and Individual Identity
  (Source:C. Giro/Paris 2018/Gay Games 10)

At a time when every news browser refresh reveals further erosion of world order, a gathering of citizens from 91 different countries might be expected to generate a fair share of friction. But as the 10th edition of the international Gay Games came to a close in Paris earlier this month, the ongoing conflicts between national governments seemed an afterthought for most participants.

Amid a sweltering heat wave that saw more than 10,300 amateur athletes (including single participants from nations as far-flung as Togo, Angola, and Egypt) compete in temperatures that soared into the mid-90s, the unifying global issue of climate change seemed more top-of-mind than the divisiveness of international politics.

Politics aside for sport and pride
Water polo.  (Source:Jim Gladstone)

Politics aside for sport and pride

As thousands of queer people from dramatically different cultural backgrounds competed in sports ranging from basketball to table tennis to same-sex dancing, participants routinely minimized political disagreements. (Among the notable exceptions was the Hong Kong and Taiwanese contingents' pointed decision to march separately from the Chinese.)

Norman Mitchell, 52, of Sydney, Australia (a gold medalist in squash for his age bracket), remarked that the most impactful aspect of the Games for him was seeing so-called competitors "encouraging each other to do their best."

Mitchell noted that the Games' policy of welcoming anyone to participate, regardless of age, skill level and even sexuality (Straight allies are welcome to compete) created a unifying spirit of inclusion rather than leading athletes to focus on national differences.

"I did hear a couple of Americans apologizing for Trump," Mitchell confessed.

Henry Vega Ortiz, 47, a runner from the Boston area agreed, noting that at home, "when I am in athletic spaces, my guard is up. I anticipate the homophobic look or comment. At one point, during my run, I realized that I didn't need to do that. Everyone around me was queer or queer-friendly. A weight seemed to lift. I swear I ran faster because of it."

"I talked to people from all over the world," said Ricky Tsai, 32, who represented Canada in several running events. "But I didn't hear any discussion of politics. We were there to play sports and cheer for each other. People were proud and happy to be here."

"I think there are certainly underlying concerns about the U.S. and its current leadership situation," Tsai continued. "But that's true among the Americans, too."

Ortiz agreed. "In my encounters with other Americans, they all agreed that Trump was no good."

Championing a sense of self
Opening ceremony.  (Source:F. Pernet/Paris 2018/Gay Games 10)

Championing a sense of self

But within the Games' embracing sense of overall unity, Ortiz and Tsai each found the ability to navigate profound individual intersections of the personal and the political.

"I marched with Puerto Rico," explained Ortiz, whose parents were born on the island. "We marched separately from the United States."

"The older I've gotten, the more important it's become to ground myself in the history of my family and own that part of my identity. When I came out over 25 years ago, I felt I had to make a choice between being Latino and being gay. This was a chance to get outside of that mindset."

"It was also a protest of the poor response to Hurricane Maria and the racist videos on social media," reflected Ortiz. "It didn't feel right to march with the U.S. team when so many of us are treated as second-class citizens, and the island is still occupied and forced to remain in a political limbo state."

Tsai, a Toronto-based cancer researcher, was born in Hong Kong but has lived in Canada since college. Competing in Paris helped him weave together different aspects of his identity.

"I wasn't out when I lived in Hong Kong," he explained. "So I never really knew any gay people there even though I go back to visit family every year. In Paris, I got to meet runners on the Hong Kong team and now when I visit, I can get in touch with them, go for runs."

"It's interesting," says Tsai, underlining the fluid boundaries between diversity and inclusion. "So many of the Canadian athletes are immigrants from other parts of the world. Then you have my partner, who's Canadian, but he's living in France for work and ended up registering for the French team. And the guy I met from the Hong Kong Frontrunners was actually a Quebecois expat."

In 2022, when the queer athletes of the world convene in his native city for the 11th Gay Games, Tsai says, "I am going to run for Hong Kong."

Jim Gladstone is a San Francisco-based writer and creative strategist.

Summer 2018

This story is part of our special report titled "Summer 2018." Want to read more? Here's the full list.


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