from?” The achingly gruff voice of Harvey Fierstein
echoed through Yankee Stadium as a parade of gay and
lesbian athletes flowed ever so slowly around the
field. The playwright and actor had been left on this
grand stage without any lines, stranded on a dais
constructed over the pitcher’s mound in front
of thousands of spectators. So he was improvising.
“Where ya from?” he yelled over and
over. The athletes yelled back, and Harvey repeated
into his microphone the bits and pieces he could make
Thus began the
closing ceremony for 1994’s Gay Games IV. The
organizers had cooked up the athletes’ grand
entrance—which went on for a half hour or
more—but hadn’t thought to provide any
narration or means of identifying the competitors.
Harvey made the
best of it, and his good-natured prodding has become an
inside joke between my partner and me. “Where ya
from?” we’ll fake-shout in our
gruffest Harvey voices and laugh. No one else knows why
this is funny. You had to be there.
We owe that
souvenir to the Gay Games’ disarray. A more
professionally produced event would have left no
opportunity for Harvey’s bellowing. But since
the Games moved from its San Francisco birthplace to
Vancouver for the 1990 competition, it’s been a
series of “let’s put on a show” events
staged by a new crew in a new city every four years.
Each time, the
nonprofit Federation of Gay Games selects a freshly
assembled committee of planners and promoters. Then it
offers advisory support as a bunch of neophytes learn
from scratch how to put on an Olympic-size event.
Since Vancouver, each local committee—in New York, in
Amsterdam in 1998, and in Sydney in 2002—has had
grand plans and hopes. And each has wound up tripping
over an endless series of unanticipated hurdles and
unable to swim its way out of a river of red ink.
For those of us
in the stands or on the playing fields, these
behind-the-scenes failures may have little or no impact on
our enjoyment. For dedicated Games competitors, who
loyally support every event, this issue’s cover
line, “Saving the Games,” may seem harsh or
flatly inaccurate. They come, they perform, and win or
lose, they take home precious memories and medals.
What’s to save?
something needs work when the drama gets so heated that Gay
Games splits itself in two. Original 2006 host city
Montreal, selected in 2001 but abandoned over
financial disagreements in 2003, is going forward with
Outgames, while the Federation of Gay Games hastily set up
shop in Chicago. Are two games better than one?
know. Maybe this will be the year that organizers build
institutional memory, learn from past mistakes, and
guarantee the continuation of these competitions. But
we can’t ignore the obvious: Two games are not
better than one unless each flourishes in a way that no Gay
Games has in at least 16 years.
both Chicago and Montreal promise that will happen this
summer. It could well be so: Both events are going full
steam ahead, with ample sponsorship and upward of
10,000 athletes warming up (a symbolic three of whom
The Advocate profiles in this issue).
Let’s hope. In any case, I’m sure the
vast majority of those athletes will have the time of
their lives in Chicago and Montreal—wherever
they’re from, and wherever each of these
athletic events is headed in the future.