Scroll To Top

Op-ed: How the Gay Games Went Wrong

Op-ed: How the Gay Games Went Wrong


The daughter of the Gay Games' founder says the international sporting event is being diluted because of a merger with the OutGames.

It's not entirely clear what inspired the Federation of Gay Games and the Gay and Lesbian International Sport Association to want to rebrand the Gay Games, change its mission, and turn their backs on a legacy of more than 30 years, but it's certainly dealing a gut-wrenching blow to those who have supported the event over the course of the last three and a half decades.

In May the boards of both organizations announced their intent to merge the two international sporting events -- the Gay Games and OutGames -- into "One World Event" going forward.

On one level, the idea that two opposing bodies can band together to create something bigger is wonderful -- but what happens when they lose their sense of direction, change the mission, and take away from what made the original event(s) so great on their own?

I can't speak for the OutGames, but as the daughter of Dr. Tom Waddell, founder of the Gay Games, and Sara Lewinstein, one of his cofounders, I honestly believe we're detracting from the overall experience the event provides.

For those of you who aren't familiar with it, the Gay Games is an international sporting event that was founded in 1982 by my father, under the motto "Participation, Inclusion and Personal Best." Over the 33 years since its inception, the quadrennial celebration of sports and culture has:

  • Hosted nine events in eight cities, including San Francisco, Vancouver, New York, Amsterdam, Sydney, Chicago, Cologne, and Cleveland
  • Seen athletes from more all the U.S. states and more than 60 nations, including Canada, South Africa, China, France, Sweden, Germany, Holland, and Australia
  • Offered nearly 50 sports to choose from, including sailing, bowling, track and field, softball, basketball, soccer, flag football, swimming, ice skating, and ballroom dancing
  • Emphasized culture by featuring various bands, choruses, dance groups, artists, community awards, and parties
  • Provided attendees with a chance to learn and reflect, acknowledging the road that got us here, the challenges we continue to have to overcome, and the victories we've already accomplished
  • Impacted the lives of hundreds of thousands of participants, volunteers, friends and families, regardless of their race, nationality, sexuality, age, health, or background

Now, under the new direction mandated by FGG and GLISA, sports will no longer be the focus of the event, as funds are reallocated to also support a conference track, or a series of lectures, to be hosted at the same time.

As an advocate for LGBTQ rights, I generally think the more events, the better -- and this goes for any industry, activity, or topic of interest. Whether catering to a specific region, sport, or hobby, having multiple events showcases the strength of the community and has a positive impact on participants. Each event represents more opportunities to educate and cater to different audiences around the world. Unfortunately, by combining the two events and changing the mission, I believe the new One World Event will only suffer, along with the event participants and the LGBTQ community as a whole.

Now, to clarify -- I have nothing against conferences or lectures. I fully believe in their potential to educate and build their own following -- but going to a conference provides a very different experience for people than participating in or attending a sporting event. And I truly feel that by adding them to the Gay Games and changing the established event's identity, mission, and principles, will ultimately detract from the event, not add to them.

The Gay Games has been an established organization for more than 30 years. It was founded by a gay Olympian, paratrooper, infectious disease physician, and father -- who had to overcome incredible obstacles in order to make the games a reality before he died of AIDS complications in 1987.

The Gay Games has a history, a legacy, and a life. But in rebranding it, we're losing everything it took to get us here, and we're detaching ourselves from the heart and soul of the event itself.

The Gay Games is, at its core, an international sporting event. While conferences are wonderful for educating people, by adding one to the sporting event, we are taking away from the games' purpose and essentially competing against ourselves. We're lessening the focus on sports and essentially veering away from allowing any and all to participate, be included, and show their full potential.

By adding two differing experiences to participate in (either sports or lectures), we're ultimately separating those we seek to unite and reallocating funds that would normally go toward providing an immersive sporting experience for LGBT athletes from around the world.

As a PR and events professional who has worked in communications for nearly a decade, I can honestly say that diluting the focus of an event never ends well. There have been countless times when clients or partners have made that mistake before -- and every time it's been done, the primary feedback received was that people left disappointed. While they loved the activities they were able to participate in, they often had a hard time choosing one over the other, and they left feeling like there was something they missed regardless of way they did.

That said, there is still something we can do!

Today, I would like to encourage all Gay Games supporters to join in the fight against this merger and preserve the Gay Games legacy. While the FGG and GLISA may have already signed their intent to join forces, we can still make a difference by letting them know what the Gay Games means to us and why maintaining its focus on sports is so important.

Please visit our "Keep the Gay Games Alive!" petition on to show your support. You can find it here.

Jessica-waddell-lewinsteinx100_0JESSICA WADDELL LEWINSTEIN is the communications manager at 2K, a San Francisco-based company that develops and publishes interactive entertainment. She is the daughter of Dr. Tom Waddell, founder of the Gay Games, and Sara Lewinstein, one of the games' cofounders.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Jessica Waddell Lewinstein