Originally published on Advocate.com May 09 2014 4:00 AM ET
Wrestlers at the Gay Games in Cologne, 2010.
There’s nothing like the Gay Games. For a full week, some 10,000 LGBT athletes descend on a city to compete on the court and the field and get to know one another. Their impact has been powerful, breaking stereotypes and building friendships since their inception at the height of the AIDS crisis in 1982.
Thirty-two years later, some people point to recent advances in sports as evidence that the Gay Games aren’t necessary anymore. I say, bullshit.
For all of the recent changes for LGBT people in sports, fear still drives many gay athletes. Sure, Michael Sam and Jason Collins have come out in the Big 4, but they’re just two people, comprising a tiny fraction of the gay men in pro sports. Female superstars Brittney Griner, Abby Wambach, and others have come out, yet lesbian coaches feel forced to stay closeted. Trans athletes like Fallon Fox struggle simply for the right to compete.
Crucially, we haven’t ended the fear of coming out that so many young LGBT athletes feel in high school and college. These kids are still beating themselves up (sometimes literally) and leaving sports because of the taunting and abuse they suffer.
For them and every other LGBT athlete, the Gay Games have always been a safe place to participate free of judgment or ridicule.
The Gay Games are also a powerful political ambassador for our community. This summer, the cultural battleground state of Ohio will play host. Thousands of athletes will descend on Cleveland and Akron in a powerful display to the bell-wether state, which has a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage. Visibility can have powerful results, especially when coupled with millions of dollars infused into a sluggish local economy.
The Gay Games are also a way to engage other LGBT people in a healthy way that doesn’t require alcohol and dance parties. Do we really want to deny the opportunity to meet a hot little number in a wrestling singlet? The Gay Games bring together the entire world for a week of participation, inclusion, and personal best. Oh, and yeah, there are alcohol and dance parties, too, if they’re your thing.
LGBT advocates in sports have seen incredible progress in recent years. Rather than slowing down in the final stretch of a big race, we need to build up every corner of the movement, not abandon them. I’ll be in Ohio this summer for the Gay Games — it would be a mistake to miss out. Plus, that hot wrestler awaits.
Below, enjoy a selection of historic images from the Gay Games.
92-year-old U.S. athlete Paul Mart (right) takes part in the bodybuilding competition of the Gay Games in Cologne, Germany, August 2, 2010.
A competitor readies for competition during the Physique Competition of the Gay Games VII at Welsh Ryan Arena, July 18, 2006 in Evanston, Ill., just outside Chicago.
Cyndi Lauper performs during the Closing Ceremony of the Gay Games VII at Wrigley Field in Chicago, July 22, 2006.
Performers participate during the Closing Ceremony of the Gay Games VII at Chicago's Wrigley Field, July 22, 2006.
A team performs in the freestyle competition of the water ballet event at the Pink Friday party of the Gay Games in the German city of Cologne August 6, 2010.
Spectators cheer as they watch the water ballet competition at the Pink Friday party of the Gay Games in Cologne August 6, 2010.
Tatjana Eggeling of Berlin leads the field in the women's 5,000-meter event November 5, 2002, during the Sydney Gay Games at the Homebush Athletics Centre.
Gabriel Caldwell of Team Los Angeles celebrates winning the men's 4 x 400-meter relay November 6, 2002, during the Sydney Gay Games at the Homebush Athletics Centre.
An aerial shot of a wrestling competition June 20, 1994, during the Gay Games at New York University.
Participants in the 2002 Australian Gay Games celebrate their personal best and sport their medals during a photo call on the Sydney Opera House's steps with the harbor as a background.
Veronica C. Combs and Zoe Baffour in the Dancesport Competition of the Gay Games VII at the Hilton Hotel July 19, 2006, in Chicago.
A couple skate in the Same-Sex Pairs Men's Competition during the Gay Games June 23, 1994, in New York City.