Gay Games 2018: Everything you need to know about the world’s most inclusive sports event

More than 10,000 athletes have gathered in Paris to take part in the 10th edition of the Gay Games, the world’s most inclusive sports event.

The 2018 event, held between August 4-12, will see the participation of athletes representing 91 different countries, including 20 where homosexuality is illegal such as Egypt, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. A Chinese team will compete for the first time, ahead of the 2022 Gay Games which will be held in Hong Kong, the first and only Asian city that had ever bid to host the event.

Held every four years like the Olympics, the Gay Games’s first edition was organised in San Francisco, California, in 1982—the same year the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first used the term ‘AIDS’ (acquired immune deficiency syndrome)—breaking stereotypes about LGBT+ people. The community was strong, and inclusive.

Athletes can compete in 36 sports (Paris2018/Instagram)

Former Olympian champion and physician Tom Waddell decided to create the games, inspired by a Bay Area gay bowling competition. Waddell had initially called the event Gay Olympics, but the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) sued over the use of the word “Olympic,” claiming that the name “Gay Olympics” would hurt their image—the Supreme Court sided 7-2 with USOC in 1987.

Waddell had relationships with both men and women and had a daughter, Jessica Waddell Lewinstein, from lesbian athlete Sara Lewinstein, whom he married in 1985—two years before dying of AIDS.

“He wanted people to be able to be free, to come out and be themselves, and be able to play sports,” his daughter, who was only four when he died, remembered him in an interview with ESPN in 2014.

Whereas other sport events are struggling with letting trans athlete compete in their preferred gender category, the Gay Games has no such qualms.

“Every one can choose his or her gender or choose to compete in [a] mix team,” Manuel Picaud, co-président of the Paris 2018 event, told PinkNews.

New Zealand’s transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard’s participation in the Commonwealth Games was fiercely opposed by some countries, but the Gay Games organisers have received no complaints about their trans-inclusive policy.

“There should be no complain if we understand the mindset of the Gay Games,” Picaud said. “It is about respecting diversity.”

Trans activist Clémence Zamora Cruz believes the example of inclusivity set by the Gay Games could be replicated in other sporting events.

“From the outset, the Gay Games has denounced discrimination against LGBT+ people, along with all other forms of discrimina­tion, as contrary to sports values. The low rate of participation by trans ath­letes led to a discussion of the possible obstacles to their participation. The registration forms were amended to respect gender identity, with three choices—’female,’ ‘male,’ ‘other,'” she told PinkNews.

“A message to participants and sports club leaders raised awareness of gender identity issues and dealing with trans athletes, and more particularly, using the appropriate gender when speaking. Trainings about trans issues has been provided. So yes, all those mechanisms for trans inclusivity shown in the Gay Games can be replicated to other sports events,” she said.

For the activist, sport remains a field where the strict separation between women and men represent an obstacle to the inclusion of non-binary people. “These principles reinforce stereotypes and prejudices and foster sexism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia,” she said.

“Thinking together is an essential priority: to identify alternatives that allow all access to sport and competition, to extend the self-definition principle of Gay Games to non-binary people, and to prepare opportunities for mixed competitions,” she added.

Picaud too is not altogether against the idea to do away with gender categories. “This can be a goal in order to combat sexism and homophobia,” he said. “Principles should not be ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius,’ [the Latin Olympic motto meaning “faster, higher, stronger”] but preferably ‘Participation, Inclusion and Personal Best,” he added.

This article was updated with comments from Clémence Zamora Cruz received after publication.