Let the (Out) Games Begin

By Ross Forman

Originally published on Advocate.com July 22 2009 11:00 PM ET

The worldwide economic crisis has severely impacted participation in the second-ever, eight-day World Outgames, which kicks off Saturday night in Copenhagen. Now organizers are hoping Mother Nature doesn't also rain on the event... literally.

The Opening Ceremony is an outdoor tribute traditionally reserved for Danish royalty and national sports heroes at City Hall Square in the heart of Copenhagen. The parade of nations will be across a catwalk constructed specifically for the event and about 100 countries will be represented. Lord Mayor Ritt Bjerregaard is even scheduled to attend.

The World Outgames is the biggest LGBT event of 2009 and the third-biggest event of the year in Copenhagen, behind only a major International Olympic Committee event in October and the Climate Conference in December.

"When I left the office today, there were more than 100 volunteers still working," Outgames director Uffe Elbaek said Wednesday. "There was a focused, calm atmosphere. We're seeing everything come together. It's a really nice feeling. As the event organizer, it was a big challenge as we were hit by the economic crisis. So we really had to navigate very wisely, and still do.

"There are about 2,500 fewer [registered participants] than [the 8,000] we were hoping for, but, seeing the spectrum of the financial crisis, I think it's really, really good numbers. Overall I'm very happy about the event."

This year's Outgames follows the inaugural 2006 event, which was held in Montreal... and turned out to be a financial disaster for its local organizing committee, which filed for bankruptcy protection in December 2006, with more than $5 million owed to private investors and the Canadian government, among others.

With a different organizing committee in place, Copenhagen doesn't inherit Montreal's debt -- but rest assured the numbers were watched very carefully to ensure history wouldn't repeat itself.

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Developed in 2006 as an alternative to the tradition-rich, sports-driven quadrennial Gay Games, Outgames is, in actuality, a three-part event, combining a wide-ranging human rights conference with a diverse cultural program and a sporting competition that hits about 30 events, ranging from basketball and volleyball to squash and bowling.

With the motto "Freedom to love, love of freedom," Outgames participants come from all over the world. About 10% of all Outgames registrants are from the United States, with the most American registrants coming from Washington, New York, and California. Denmark, naturally, has the most participants, followed by Germany.

"We are especially proud of having participants from several of the countries in the Middle East, [which are] not the easiest place on earth to be gay," said Ole Udsholt, the project manager of campaigns for the 2009 World Outgames.

Swimming, running, and volleyball have the most registrants, and about two thirds of the registrants are male.

"The Outgames actually is a very holistic event," Elbaek said. "The human rights conference speaks to your mind; the cultural and artistic program speaks to your heart; and the sports speak to your body. It really is a three-dimensional event, and we could not have done the World Outgames without any one of the three elements. It's a very interesting mix of mind, body, and heart. The Outgames will be an emotional roller coaster of being an LGBT person."

Take a peek at what's in store for this year's Outgames.

Conference

The three-day conference (July 27-29), with about 1,000 worldwide delegates, will be held at the new Danish Broadcasting Corporation's Concert Centre and the new IT University. There will be workshop sessions and speakers from more than 70 countries, spanning the 10 conference themes: Human Rights and Politics; Out for Business; Culture and Media; Health; Education; Family and Relationships; and more. Keynote speakers range from former NBA player John Amaechi to activist Cleve Jones of Milk fame; South Korean actor/comedian Suk Hong to Georgina Beyer of New Zealand, the first transsexual to be elected mayor and a member of parliament.

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Culture

The Outgames is hosting exhibitions, performances, concerts, workshops, and a week of parties. For instance, "The History of Homosexuality in Copenhagen" is offered at the Museum of Copenhagen. In addition, six global cities, such as Mexico City and Tel Aviv, will participate in OutCities, held on the streets of Copenhagen to showcase the very best of world culture -- with a queer twist.

Sports

There will be about 30 different sporting disciplines played, from the 100-meter sprint to the 200-meter backstroke, from basketball to volleyball. Swimming will be the largest sporting show as the 2009 International Gay & Lesbian Aquatics (IGLA) annual Championship will be held at the Outgames.

"I am extremely happy that, in these turbulent economic times, we have managed to get so many people from all corners of the world to come to Copenhagen this summer," Elbæk said. "There are participants from some of the countries where loving someone of the same sex can mean imprisonment or even the death penalty, such as Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates."