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gaygame3.gif - 21.29 K International Gay Games Come of Age

Amsterdam Site Draws a Quarter Million

Hosts at Gay Events Counting Big Bucks

By Jack Nichols

You thought—as you were once told—that homosexual talents are confined to those frillier things in life like clothes design, interior decorating, and, of course, the theeee-atre? Think again. The fifth International Gay Games, which opened July 31 in Amsterdam is demonstrating like nothing else can that rough and tumble athletics play a major part—as among mainstreamers—in both gay and lesbian sensibilities.

A spectre now haunts world-wide fundamentalist strongholds: that Same-Sex Affection and Love—profiled through sports—is currently being celebrated by a quarter-million gung-ho participants and enthusiastic spectators from 66 nations. Amsterdam's hotels are fully booked. Sponsors, including the carrier KLM (KLM.AS), Kodak (EK.N), Durex and Levi Strauss have contributed an organizing budget totaling $7 million.

Outside the perimeters of North America, the Netherlands capital—which takes pride in being Europe's gay capital—has become the first city to play host to the International Gay Games. Fifteen thousand athletes are participating in 29 different sports. Mayor Schelto Patijn welcomed the crowds calling Amsterdam the "Gayway to Europe."

According to city officials $150 million in gay tourist receipts has already been earmarked. The Gay Games, which in the 1980s was refused the right to call itself "The Gay Olympics", may soon surpass the Olympics in both size and attendance.

gaygame1.gif - 21.90 K Gay Games '98 mascot Frau Antje

In June, TV preacher Pat Robertson threatened Orlando, Florida with severe weather--courtesy of God--after it flew gay-pride rainbow flags on downtown streets. Amsterdam in August seems blissfully ignorant of such preacher- prattle. Responding to the peaceful Netherlands gay invasion, Amsterdam's city council has distributed miles of bunting and flags with the games' logo.

gaygame5.jpg - 42.21 K Amsterdam's ArenA, site of the opening and closing ceremonies of the Gay Games.

On streets, canals, homes and restaurants, gay flags are flying in profusion. On Dam Square in front of Queen Beatrix's palace, stages and stands have been built where free concerts are being held every evening during the games. Open air bars and booths have been erected in Friendship Village to accommodate the massive crowds. There is a convivial spirit abroad, one that can only be called gay in the most joyful sense.

But even in the midst of such joy, more serious concerns haven't been forgotten. On Friday, a charity auction sold off items donated by Tina Turner, Madonna, Dana International, and Jean-Paul Gaultier, the proceeds going to AIDS projects.

In the past, at events where large lesbian and gay contingents were expected, activists often recommended that celebrants write "gay money" on their bills— clumsy attempts at showing same-sex purchasing power. Such recommendations are now clearly passe. Major cities across the globe court the next gay sporting events.

Sydney, Australia, after happily counting $99 million earned by locals during the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras festival there will host—in 2000—the International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics Championships. This sparkling Australian city's tourist officials—Tourism NSW, in contrast to small-minded Cayman Islands bigots (who turned away a gay cruise boat recently) issued a welcoming statement: "Tourism NSW recognizes the economic importance of the gay tourism market, and promotes the gay and lesbian Mardi Gras as an integral part of the Sydney tourism experience."

This year's International Gay Games have not been without controversies, those based on gender assignment such as have also affected past Olympic meets. Transsexual issues found focus in the New York Times' first-day coverage of the Games, its headline reading: "Event Founded to Fight Bias is Accused of It."

gaygame4.jpg - 3.69 KShould the strengths of a male-to-female transsexual be pitted against those of genetic females? The Olympics, in 1977, long ago lost its bid to require chromosome tests in the case of Dr. Renee Richards, a transsexual tennis player. In ballroom dancing, same-sex couples are expected to compete in the Gay Games. Is gender-mixed dancing therefore—a lesbian woman and a gay male—to be allowed?

A group touting Queer Do-It Yourself Games—fun- fringe renegades--added new categories of "queer sports" to the world's long list of things to do. These "sports", challenges to gender-specificity, included a 200-meter dash in high heels and a purse-tossing contest.

Ice skating, with same-sex pairs performing, has provoked the most volatile reactions from conservative sports bigots, however. Skaters have been threatened with expulsion from the International Skating Union should they dare to skate at the side of a member of their own sex. The European Gay and Lesbian Sporting Federation has called on skaters to wear face-masks in protest. A statement issued by the Federation says:

"This is proof of the still-existing homophobic atmosphere within the regular sport associations and organizations, where they scrupulously stick with conservative opinions without taking into account the ever changing world outside."

Mainstream sports media has shown little inclination to give attention to the International Gay Games.

As events got underway, thousands cheered mightily as delegations from many nations entered the arena. There were rainbow-colored umbrellas held high by the Dutch, while Japanese athletes marched in wearing traditional kimonos.

Tennis champion Martina Navratilova addressed the crowd on giant television screens, via satellite.

``Many of us have competed in an environment where we have had to hide a valuable part of ourselves," she said, "One by one we have faced these fears.''

© 1997-98 BEI