Gay Games constitute an event made up of multiple sports contests that is held every four years and open to all who wish to participate, but is particularly focused on LGBTQ competitors. The Games have done much to popularize athletic participation within the Gay community, educate people outside the community about LGBTQ athletes, and break down stereotypes about what activities are considered masculine and feminine.
As with the Olympics on which it was modeled, the Gay Games are marked with pomp and ceremony as well as concurrent festive events between competitions.
Conflict with the U.S. Olympic Committee
The Gay Games were founded by Dr. Tom Waddell and first held in San Francisco in 1982, where an estimated 1600 people participated. Subsequent Gay Games were held in Vancouver, New York, Amsterdam, Sydney, Chicago, and other major cities. In 2006, the estimated participation was 12,500.
Waddell originally called the Games the Gay Olympics, but the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) sued to prevent this use of the word “Olympics” and obtained an injunction which prohibiting use of the name. This was controversial because many other organizations include the word “Olympics” in their titles, including the Special Olympics, the Academic Olympics, and the Knitting Olympics. Some even suggested a countersuit by the nation of Greece, which could claim historical priority over the term “Olympics.” The case remained in litigation for years and was eventually decided in favor of the USOC in 1987.
The athletic portion of the Games includes a number of traditional Olympic sports such as swimming, track and field, and wrestling, as well as less traditional sports such as power lifting, flag football, and bodybuilding competition. The Games have pioneered innovations on traditional sports, including same-sex pairs figure skating and male synchronized swimming. Emphasis in the Games has always been on inclusion and participation, and there have never been qualifying standards or national quotas for any event. In addition, many events offer multiple levels of competition such as “open” and “recreational,” or separate competitive divisions by age.
Tom Waddell (1937-1987), Iconic Founder
Dr. Tom Waddell (born Thomas Flubacher) was a physician and decathlete. Waddell competed internationally in track and field for the United States. The summit of his career was his sixth-place finish in the decathlon at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. He retired from serious competition in 1972 after a knee injury, but was inspired to found the Gay Games after attending a Gay bowling competition in San Francisco. He later competed in Gay Games II in 1986, where he won a gold medal in the javelin.
Although his primary relationships were with men, Waddell wanted to be a parent and in 1983 had a daughter, Jessica, with the Lesbian athlete Sara Lewinstein. Waddell and Lewinstein married in 1985, by which point Waddell had been diagnosed with AIDS. Despite treatment with the then-experimental drug AZT, he died from complications of AIDS in 1987.
Buzinski, Jim, and Cyd Zeigler, Jr. The Outsports Revolution: Truth and Myth in the World of Gay Sports. New York: Alyson, 2007.
Federation of Gay Games [web site] www.gaygames.com (accessed Feb. 2, 2008).
Waddell, Tom and Dick Schaap. Gay Olympian: The Life and Death of Dr. Tom Waddell. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996.