LGBT

As LGBT Rights Flourish, the Gay Games Have Enduring Value to the Community

Everyone, straight or gay, bleeds when thrown off a thousand pound animal.

|

Zenon Evans

The ninth Gay Games (GG9) kicked off in Cleveland and Akron, Ohio, this weekend. It's the world's largest LGBT sports and culture events, boasting over 50 countries represented, more than 35 sports played, and around 7,000 athletes (10 percent of whom are straight) competing. But as the LGBT world grows ever more established, a big question looms over the Games: Why are they still relevant?

"We get that question a lot," acknowledges GG9 Executive Director Tom Nobbe. Times have changed and the impetus of the community has, too, as its uphill battle for civil rights begins to level out, and popularity presents different challenges for gays. Last year was the gayest year ever in the U.S., with 18 states recognizing gay marriage. 2014 is moving toward legislative equality at an even quicker pace.

President Barack Obama made a surprise video announcement at the GG9 opening ceremony, and the county's Republican Party issued a warm welcome, both of which were unthinkable acts of outreach the last time the Games were stateside back in 2006. But, politicians are often playing catch up with other vehicles of change.

Popular culture is a big force behind shifting views. "There is absolutely more opportunity to participate in mainstream sport and culture events," says Nobbe. Countless athletes have come out of the closet since the Games began in 1982. In the last year, plenty of other prominent talents, from actors to activists, have felt more comfortable expressing their identies with increasing public support.

Money is an important engine for changing views, too. "I know why Obama evolved on gay marriage," joked one Federation of Gay Games official, "It wasn't because he really cared, maybe, but because the Republicans wouldn't give an economic stimulus, so he said, 'Let's have gay marriage, because all these weddings cost so much money.'" Jokes aside, since the Games are funded (mostly) by private organizations, Cleveland and Akron scrambled for the opportunity to host them, embracing the chance to rebrand as gay tourist destinations. These rustbelt towns were enticed by the promise of an economic boom to the tune of $50 million, which like all big events, is almost certainly an exaggerated estimate—but, that's just it, the Games aren't a niche celebration, they aren't an exception; they're like all other big events, talked about in the same monetary terms as the return of Lebron James or the Cleveland. They might even be less controversial than that. 

None of this is to say that being mainstream is the end of troubles for the LGBT community. In an arena with the punchy, not unpleasant smell of county fair fry grease and ranch animals, the first ever Gay Games rodeo event took place this Sunday. Ed Barry, President of the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA) tells Reason that as homosexuality becomes normalized by things as mundane as dating apps, the environment he knew is being shaken up. Says Barry, "Now that we're weaving so much into the general fabric of society, it becomes more difficult to attract people who are coming for camaraderie." Although young people enjoy attending events, through which the IGRA carry on both cowboy culture and gay culture, the new generation didn't face the same kind of adversity—denied by countless venues, hassled by cops and courts—he and other older folks did, just to put on their rodeos. Without these challlenges, young members of the community just don't have the same drive to be involved.

Zenon Evans

To be sure, overcoming its historical challenges isn't something the community would want to relive. Sonny Koebler, a bull rider, says the institutions like the IGRA and Gay Games do remain relevant and important because of their connection to LGBT history. Both organizations have fought discrimination and preserve the memory through their events. Koebler says they wouldn't want to lose touch with the fact that "when these organizations started, there was no ability for any figure in any sport to come out."

And, the struggle does continue in some ways. Koebler regularly risks being gored or trampled just like any other rider, but says rodeo is "still unfortunately a sport in the straight world with a lot of barriers to overcome." The Games and the IGRA help by creating a platform by which people realize "the gay community is as diverse as the straight community. There are as many gay boys and girls born out in the sticks and raised around cattle as there born in urban areas, and I think a lot of people don't get that. The Gay Games really shows that off" to not only the straight world, but other parts of the LGBT world that had never heard of a gay rodeo.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson put it another way: "It's easy to hate someone you demonize, but it's very difficult to dislike someone you know."

It's this proximity, this familiarity of the Games that make them not only meaningful, but successful in a way that the pomp-and-pretense-filled Olympics cannot be. Frankly, it makes for a more engaging watch, too. Some Games' athletes are record-breaking pros, but many are not. They're on a pedestal, but one that appears within reach. You're close enough to see the unpolished humanness of their struggle when they slip, hit the ground, and bleed, and those who excel are illuminated against the backdrop of all that grit. You don't get this kind of context with Usain Bolt. Yeah, he's faster than the five other fastest Olympian sprinters on Earth, but what does he compare to your friends who ran in college? And, honestly, as fun as it is to get gung-ho about quirky Olympic sports like curling or badminton every four years, watching GG9 athletes competing in pool at the local Dave & Busters hits closer to home. It's something any American could relate to any day of the week.

Some outside challenges remain, even in the state hosting GG9. A federal court is currently hearing a case on Ohio's gay marriage ban, but from the judges' statements, it seems that ban won't last much longer.

And while demonization in the U.S. dissolves, the Games are still significant to the LGBT community internationally. At GG9, the entrance of Russia's team elicited the loudest applause of the opening ceremony, and its captains received an award for their daring resistance to their homeland's oppressive anti-gay laws. Such support and sanctuary is unquantifiable.

The Games don't pack up and ship out of Cleveland until this Sunday and there are plenty more competitions and performances until then. After that, they're out of North America until 2022, and in their next incarnations will undoubtedly pick up more culture, more talent, and more victories to add to the legacy.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

70 responses to “As LGBT Rights Flourish, the Gay Games Have Enduring Value to the Community

  1. Alt Alt Text: “ur doin it wrong”

  2. Fabulous!

  3. I’m really regretting not having entered the grappling event. No homo.

    1. I always knew you were Horde.

  4. All the way from The Gayest City on Earth…Beautiful Akron, Ohio!!!!

  5. Well, I am never getting the time back from reading this.

  6. Explain to me why such a thing exists for any reason other than the pettiest expression of identity politics.

    because I don’t recall the actual Olympics being any less homo.

    1. Could you define “identity politics” for me?

      1. While you read all about it, Tony, i suggest you also reference the meaning of “willfully obtuse” and how it tends to erode a person’s credibility

        1. I wanted you to use your own words.

          1. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. expresses the typical criticism pretty succinctly =

            “”movements for civil rights should aim toward full acceptance and integration of marginalized groups into the mainstream culture, rather than…perpetuating that marginalization through affirmations of difference.”[9]

            or did you not ever learn to read in the impoverished, deprived, homosexual ghetto you were raised in?

            1. You just had to bring Schlesinger into this didn’t you.

              Your initial post seemed to express a grievance bordering on a whine that some event somewhere exists that you’re not invited to. As if to say, not only are minorities required to do all the work of assimilation while white straight people sit in their reclining chairs and occupy the pure essence of Americanism merely by being, the fact that they are ghettoized is their own fault in the first place. But I may be way off base.

              I’m not one to criticize white European-derived culture. Gays played a big part in it. I believe in assimilation while changing. A minority gets absorbed into what can be called a national identity, but in doing so changes it by adding valuable new qualities to it. And once everyone is equal, if they want to self-segregate for certain purposes, that’s cool. I’d hate to feel that in order to be PC I have to have a token straight around all the time. Straights can be exhausting.

              1. Was there a point in that word-salad of griefing?

          2. I hesitate sometimes to use big words around you, Tony.

            I risk being accused of ‘Ableism’.

      2. Turd.Burglar.

    2. to get laid

    3. I suppose i should RTFA before bitching.

      I actually think the international angle (not mentioned until the very end) is something fairly significant.

      Many countries participating in the olympics (thinking: much of Africa?) probably wouldn’t allow ‘out’ athletes to participate.

    4. nnyahahahaa[splutter]mmphaha[snort]

      (the best approximation that I can come up with of the sound I made when I read that)

      Hooray for nude wrestling and horse racing*.

      *the jockeys, that is. Though I believe they also rode bareback, which means the horses were naked as well.

      Just to make it a perfect manly event, as I understand it, women were prohibited from entering any venues or viewing any events on pain of death.

    5. “Explain to me why such a thing exists for any reason other than the pettiest expression of identity politics.”

      Professional sports are still extremely homophobic; viz all the hoopla about Michael Sam.

      But more importantly, to meet other gay and lesbian folks. You know, for hanging out together, for dating, for flirting, and for having sex together.

      What’s next? Are you going to accuse Catholics or Lutherans of the “pettiest expression of identity politics” for gathering up in their respective places of worship every Sunday? Are you really as stupid as you appear to be?

      1. Are you going to accuse Catholics or Lutherans of the “pettiest expression of identity politics” for gathering up in their respective places of worship every Sunday?

        Gathering up at their respective places of worship every Sunday isn’t any different in character than gay folks, say, gathering up at their favorite gay bar on the weekend. If they were holding the Presbyterian Olympics in which only 10% of the participants could be non-Presbyterian Christians, I’d say they were pretty well equally retarded for the same reasons.

        Are you really as stupid as you appear to be?

        The irony is palpable.

        1. Btw, FWIW, I wouldn’t make any effort to stop the Presbyterians from holding the Presbyterian Olympics. I just don’t think there would be anything unlibertarian about somebody accusing them of identity politics, or sectarianism, or general retardation, and I don’t think you would either.

          1. “I just don’t think there would be anything unlibertarian about somebody accusing them of identity politics,”

            There is nothing either libertarian or unlibertarian about it; it is simply an erroneous accusation by people with an ax to grind.

        2. “If they were holding the Presbyterian Olympics in which only 10% of the participants could be non-Presbyterian Christians”

          Where the hell do you get the idea that the Gay Games have quotas? Why don’t you stop making things up?

  7. “There are as many gay boys and girls born out in the sticks and raised around cattle as there born in urban areas, and I think a lot of people don’t get that.”

    LOL

  8. “around 7,000 athletes (10 percent of whom are straight) competing. “

    Which leads me to wonder =

    Are the ‘straight’ participants there to be like, “Team Hetero represent!”,…?

    or, is it, “I couldn’t make the actual olympics, and the Special Olympics says there’s nothing wrong with me, so….”

    And do they caveat the medals? “Winner of the Gay Pole Vaulting Event, is Jerry, who actually isn’t gay, but is just a great Pole Vaulter. NTTAWWT”

    1. fag hags, probably

      or maybe it was just people at D&B who wanted to play pool and the Gay Games had the room reserved

  9. I have never known a gay person who gave a damn about the gay games.

    Wait, shit, I meant “met”.

  10. Can’t wait for the Libertarian Games.

    1. Is that where we race the slave orphans the we’ve bred-and-raised solely to maximise their performance, and jacked them up so full of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs that 10% or so have organ failure during the events?

      or wait… that’s just the *regular* Olympics.

      1. I suppose technically they would be orphans, and the awful, tragic car crash would be more prudent than telling them that they were Fetus 3.B from Hatch 2020.01.02.

    2. I shall have to beat my servant to get him to polish my monocle for the opening ceremonies.

  11. Who the heck rols like that?

    http://www.AnonWays.tk

  12. Here’s the deal:

    If you want to be treated just like everybody else, don’t set yourself apart with exclusive, special events.

    If, on the other hand, you want to “celebrate the struggle” after its mostly passed into history, don’t complain if other people who were on the other side of that struggle take this as permission to continue struggling against you.

    I mean, go right ahead, proclaim your specialness, keep on a-struggling. Just know that its a package deal, and works against your presumed goal of being accepted by mainstream society as just another guy/gal.

    The international angle adds a twist, I’ll admit. But if that’s really the continuing reason for these kind of special events, wouldn’t it be better to hold them, you know, overseas?

    1. But if that’s really the continuing reason for these kind of special events, wouldn’t it be better to hold them, you know, overseas?

      Problem was that they select the hosting cities by spinning a globe and placing a finger to stop it. Wherever the finger lands, that’s where they host it. This year the finger landed on Riyadh. So, you could appreciate the pickle they were in. They were forced to downgrade to Cleveland, because while it’s Cleveland they didn’t have to fear beheading.

      1. while it’s Cleveland they didn’t have to fear as much beheading.

        FTFY

          1. Damn, I really had hoped that was only a bad joke on my part.

          2. Isn’t ohio the home state of the most mass-murderers in America?

            off the top of my head… (no pun!)

            Jeff Dahmer
            john Wayne Gacy
            Anthony Sowell
            James Ruppert

            Jeffrey Lundgren
            (had to look the last one up)

            a kid i knew in college told me Ohio was the leading state in ‘seriously weird-ass crimes’

            boredom was the excuse.

    2. As the article states the event is not exclusive, everyone can participate regardless of the sexual orientation.

      RC Dean, are you just as outraged by Portuguese, Greek, Norwegian festivals that take place around the country? Or is it just the gays that need to work extra hard to be “accepted by mainstream society”?

      You know, I’m probably more right-wing than any of the gay commenters here. But don’t think I don’t notice when the mask slips from your kind, the ones who were “on the other side of that struggle.”

      1. the event is not exclusive

        Yeah, I saw that. Which makes me wonder why they call it the Gay Games. But, my point was really more directed at the labeling, the insistence on being special, etc.

        All those ethnic festivals are a different kettle of fish, and you know it. Their roots are not in being excluded, or in any kind of protest. The context is not “struggle” against bigotry.

        And, griz, if you think I was ever on the other side of the gay struggle, you are badly, badly mistaken. I have not struggled, personally or publicly, with acceptance of gay people, ever in my life. I’ve generally been surprised when I learned friends and acquaintances were gay, and it changed my attitude not one nanometer.

        And fuck you for implying I was ever anti-gay. Nice marginalization you got going there; remember it works both ways. You will note that I said that they could have it one way (we’re just regular folks) or the other (we’re special and have special events), but not both. Their choice. People trying to have it both ways just get up my schnozz, is all.

        1. I would’ve started and stopped with, “And fuck you for implying I was ever anti-gay”.

        2. Maybe your ignorant, intolerant ancestors were smarter than you give them credit for. What’s all your enlightened tolerance got you?

    3. “MegaloMonocle|8.12.14 @ 6:44PM|#

      Here’s the deal:

      If you want to be treated just like everybody else, don’t set yourself apart with exclusive, special events.”

      Yep. Basically what i was saying above about ‘identity politics’ masked as sporting events.

    4. “If you want to be treated just like everybody else, don’t set yourself apart with exclusive, special events.”

      You might want to check what this website is about: it’s about libertarianism. Libertarianism means that the Catholics can say “f*ck the gays”, the Mormons can say “f*ck the Catholics”, and homosexuals can have fabulous exclusive parties to which dullards like you aren’t invited.

      The whole point of guaranteeing individual liberties is that different people can make different choices and associate with whoever they want to associate.

      1. I don’t think anybody was suggesting this should be against the law. Just questioning the messaging. Acknowledging that someone has a right to do something and not interfering with their doing it doesn’t necessarily entail endorsing their viewpoint or even refraining from criticism. One of the downsides of libertarianism is that sometimes it privileges people with whom you disagree with the the same ability to speak freely as people you like.

        1. What “messaging” is there to question? Gay men and women like to hang out together. Gillmore thinks this is some kind of left-wing political plot. MegaloMonocle thinks thinks that people shouldn’t expect “equal treatment” if they hold separate events, being disingenously vague about whether he was referring to legally equal treatment or his personal approval.

          How difficult is this to understand? Gay men and women get together because we like to hang out with each other. We don’t give a f*ck whether other people approve or what supposed social norms we violate. But we sure expect equal treatment under the law.

          1. “”Gillmore[sp] thinks this is some kind of left-wing political plot. “”

            I’d appreciate it if you’d point out where i said that.

            I said it was “identity politics” run amok.

            if this is confusing to you (as it was to Tony) see the provided link what this references.

            And i do not ‘object’ to it in any way. Acting as though i do is completely in your imagination.

            I’m pointing out *what it is*.

            By all means = let there be Gay Rodeos across the land. as the piece notes – its not part of any ‘struggle for acceptance’ anymore. I

            (*i also noted above that for some nations this is not the case, and that these games DO have some greater relevance to those groups in terms of being an avenue for progress).

            in any case, your characterization of my comments was way off.

            And statements like ‘Are you really as stupid as you appear to be?”…aren’t exactly the hallmarks of the open-minded, are they?

            1. “I’d appreciate it if you’d point out where i said that. I said it was “identity politics” run amok.”

              I’m sorry you seem to be unfamiliar with US politics. In the US, “identity politics” is something conservatives accuse progressives of.

              “I’m pointing out *what it is*.”

              But you are obviously wrong. “Identity politics” are politically self-serving arguments. The Gay Games are a social event that most people go to for socializing with other gay folks, not to make a political statement.

              “aren’t exactly the hallmarks of the open-minded, are they?”

              What makes you think I’m “open-minded” or whether I give a damn whether you “accept” me?

          2. What “messaging” is there to question?

            Obviously I can’t speak for Gilmore, and he replied for himself, but even the article brought up the issue, acknowledged by the event organizers, of how relevant the event is in the current cultural context.

            1. Yes, and I’m trying to explain to you: it’s not about politics.

              In the real world, much social life is driven by dating and mating, and gay men happen to do that with other gay men, not straight men or women. The regular Olympics can be as accepting as they want, they are still going to be 95% straight, making them a fun spectacle to watch on TV, but not a great place to socialize for gay men and women. That’s why gay-themed events will continue.

              Just because progressives try to read a political statement into everything doesn’t mean you have to do the same. Often, people just do things for fun, imagine that!

  13. Who won the Hundred Meter Swish this year?

  14. the LGBT community

    Every time I see a reason writer othering people like this I am going to point it out. LGBTQWERTY is the only certain abbreviation.

    1. I think the more subtle rendition is just “LGBTQW”

      because people will at first glance past it and see nothing wrong, but eventually someone will ask what the “w” is about… and you can just go, “Whatever”

  15. “Popular culture is a big force behind shifting views.”

    Strange that the least populist part of the government is responsible for most of the “progress”.

    “It’s this proximity, this familiarity of the Games that make them not only meaningful, but successful in a way that the pomp-and-pretense-filled Olympics cannot be. Frankly, it makes for a more engaging watch, too.”

    How far up your own ass does one have to be to write something like that?

  16. Libertarian social-shaming win!

    The LGBTQW community gets a shiny “Inclusive” badge from a libertarian writer because it can count a disproportionately small number of heterosexuals amongst ‘Gay Games’ ranks. This is contrasted against the horribly oppressive regular Olympics that neither denies gays nor forces social policy (or at least not as overtly) on host/participating nations. Clearly, the regular Olympics isn’t putting forth enough of an effort to suppress cultures in nations like Russia or Uganda to raise their openly gay participation rates from abysmally low 3-4% to more representative numbers like 7-8%.

    Only when social norms are artificially suppressed and minorities are disproportionately represented will true equality be achieved!

    1. In what way is a bunch of gay men and women getting together and holding a private sports event an “artificial suppression” of anybody’s social norms? Why the heck would a libertarian even argue about “social norms” as a political issue?

      Since you seem to be clueless as to why people go to these events, let me explain it to you. It’s not to win medals. It’s not for merit badges. It’s to socialize, and gay men and women prefer to do that with other gay men and women, if not for any other reason, then because it’s a hell of a lot easier to get laid.

      1. In what way is a bunch of gay men and women getting together and holding a private sports event an “artificial suppression” of anybody’s social norms?

        Pretty sure you misread something somewhere. That was a reference to the Olympics and their ostensible failure to encourage gay participation (which is already allowed).

        1. Has anybody called for the Olympics to represent homosexuals disproportionately? Not that I know of.

          I didn’t misread that, I was being cynical; mad.casual’s rant made no sense, either applied to the Olympics nor to the Gay Games. He is simply assuming that every gay man and woman must be a raving left-wing nut. Instead, he is proving that there are a significant number of social conservatives masquerading as libertarians.

          For a libertarian, the Gay Games, as a private event, should be of no more concern than the Catholic church or the local chess club.

          1. There was a pretty big hubbub with the summer Olympic games this year over gay participation, representation, the politics of the host country, etc. It’s not completely out of left field.

            For a libertarian, the Gay Games, as a private event, should be of no more concern than the Catholic church or the local chess club.

            Or, say, a private sports league, but as I pointed out below, that didn’t stop Reason from running an op-ed denouncing gender segregation in sports. Being a libertarian doesn’t preclude you from having an opinion or advocating for a particular position even though you don’t think the government should be involved in the issue.

            1. *winter Olympic games

            2. “There was a pretty big hubbub with the summer Olympic games this year over gay participation, representation, the politics of the host country, etc. It’s not completely out of left field.”

              Yes, there are still practical reasons why one might hold “gay games” as an alternative to the Olympics, which makes Gilmore’s charge that they are about “identity politics” even more spurious.

              “Being a libertarian doesn’t preclude you from having an opinion or advocating for a particular position”

              You’re free to state your opinion that homosexuality is disgusting and immoral (I feel the same way about several Christian denominations, for example, and make no bones about it when asked).

              But someone who considers a private sporting event to be an expression of “identity politics” is not only factually wrong, he is confusing private conduct with politics in a way that is fundamentally incompatible with libertarianism.

          2. He is simply assuming that every gay man and woman must be a raving left-wing nut. Instead, he is proving that there are a significant number of social conservatives masquerading as libertarians.

            I merely responded to Zenon’s and other forumites’ notions that the GG are inherently “good” or libertarian. I didn’t call for the dissolution or a ban, I mocked the fact that Zenon put the *Now 10% Straight* label on the games as some sort of meaningful feature (and Reason ran the article) and that several libertarian forumites relegate the gay games to obscurity save it’s implications for ‘enhancing’ foreign culture.

            I distinctly did not claim the banner of social conservatism; the clock is wrong and I pointed that out. Saying “whites are better represented in pro basketball than heterosexuals are in the gay games” or “homosexuals are better represented in the Olympics than heterosexuals at the Gay Games” doesn’t mean I’m racist or homophobic. Especially if I advocate the position that absolute equality is unattainable/desirable.

            Even if I did claim the banner, libertarianism isn’t void of all social conservatism, that would be libertinism. While fiscal conservatism can be separated from social conservatism, severing all ties between the two is impossible.

            I mean, I’m not Dawkins raping sacred cows on Twitter here, right? This is Reason, we generally recognize absurdity on the right and left and prefer to leave people, esp. outside our country, along, correct?

            1. “Saying “whites are better represented in pro basketball than heterosexuals are in the gay games” or “homosexuals are better represented in the Olympics than heterosexuals at the Gay Games” doesn’t mean I’m racist or homophobic.”

              No, but you still reason like a progressive, in terms of percentages and representation. To most participants in the Gay Games, representation and equal rights have nothing to do with why they attend. It’s not a political statement. They simply want to be surrounded by other gay folks. Why do you feel you have to make a big political deal out of this?

              “I mocked the fact that Zenon put the *Now 10% Straight* label on the games as some sort of meaningful feature”

              He mentioned it parenthetically. He didn’t make a big deal out of it politically, you did. Pointing out that the Gay Games are “inclusive” isn’t a grand political statement; it just gives you a bit more background.

              “Even if I did claim the banner, libertarianism isn’t void of all social conservatism, that would be libertinism. ”

              Libertarianism is a political philosophy that is primarily about letting people make their own choices; as such, it is necessarily “void” of social conservatism. Libertarians may incidentally hold socially conservative views in their private lives, but if they start using such views as part of political reasoning, they cease to be libertarians.

            2. “Especially if I advocate the position that absolute equality is unattainable/desirable.”

              Here, too, you use the weasel words of progressives by making vague statements about “equality”.

              Of course, in a legal sense, absolute equality is easily attainable: who people like to have sex with, how they like to raise their kids, or who they are co-habitating with, simply isn’t the government’s business.

              It’s the right that wants to keep carving out special rights for heterosexuals and religions, while the left wants to hand new, special rights to homosexuals. From a libertarian point of view, it should be clear that both sides are wrong.

  17. This from a publication that was recently railing against gender-segregated sports.

    1. huh?

      What, are you talking about title iX?

      Title9 sux AFAIK

      1. Nah, this. Personally there’s almost nothing I could possibly less care about than sports leagues or organizations setting up whatever rules or restrictions they want, but I don’t think sexual preference is any better or worse a basis for setting up a separate event than gender.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.