November, 1982, No. 88

Danny Cockerline

P. 12.

Gay Olympic games: sweat and fun, despite injunction

SAN FRANCISCO -- "We're here today not to celebrate homosexuality, but to celebrate and affirm individual freedom," remarked author Rita Mae Brown in her opening address at the first-ever Gay Olympic Games on August 28, Brown and fellow author Armistead Maupin were the MCs of perhaps the most spectacular gay event ever held, and an enthusiastic crowd of 12,000 were at Kezar Stadium to participate.

About 1,500 athletes from Peru, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, France, Belgium, West Germany, England, Scotland, Ireland, and 32 US states participated.

Both Brown and Maupin carefully avoided using the word "Olympic" in their remarks. A court injunction, the result of actions by the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), denied Games organizers the use of the words "Olympic" and "Olympiad." The name 'Gay Olympic Games" became "Gay Games" and the unauthorized word had to be crossed off buttons, posters and T-shirts.

The US Congress granted the USOC exclusive use of the words in 1978 despite their historic origin. Nevertheless, according to Tom Waddell, chair of the Gay Games, no objections were ever raised to "the Rat Olympics, the Crab Cooking Olympics, the Xerox Olympics and the Armenian Olympics."

Waddell thinks the filing of the injunction was timed "to inflict the maximum amount of damage on these games." The USOC had been aware of the intended use of the word "Olympic" since at least January when a letter had been sent to Waddell on behalf of the USOC asking him to stop using the word "Olympic." Although he refused, it was not until August 9 that the court injunction was issued.

Despite the injunction, Congressman Philip Burton welcomed the crowd at the opening ceremony "to the first Gay Olympics" while acting mayor Doris Ward proclaimed 'the Gay Olympic Games." Games attorney Mary C Dunlap promised to fight the USOC's homophobic attack on gays "in a way they will never forget." The crowd of course loved it.

Paula Pick, a Vancouver athlete and gold medalist, said the Olympic issue "was the big joke and the big issue of the games and we exploited it to no end." Rob Steven of the Vancouver Men's Chorus agreed that "The attempt by the USOC to destroy the games only added to their success."

Transforming the notion of failure to mean "not trying" rather than "not winning" was the key to the success of the Gay Olympic Games. The "ability to compete in an atmosphere where there was no intimidation" allowed this transformation, explained Vancouver athlete Jon Congdon.

Ross Armstrong, a silver medalist from Edmonton, described the Games this way: "There were no losers. The first and the last were cheered equally. Friendship and participation were the keynotes of the games."

The participation of both lesbians and gay men was a part of this success. "I think sports is an excellent way for gay men and lesbians to talk with each other and to organize and to have fun together and I saw a lot of that. And that made me very happy," said Paula Pick. About half of the athletes were women.

Ross Armstrong would like to see more Canadian participation at the 1986 Gay Olympic Games being planned for San Francisco. Discussing this year's Games, Ross says, "At times I felt strangely alone. I wondered why I was the only person from Aiberta and one of only a few from all of Canada. How could Australia or Minneapolis have such large contingents? I realize now that it's organization combined with a political commitment that prdduces mass awareness and supported action."

For information about Gaymes 86 write or phone: Gay Games, do Pride Centre, 890 Hayes Street, San Francisco (415) 861-8282.

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Created: January 12, 1997
Last modified: July 2, 1997

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