Kicking up their highest heels, thousands of participants from 77 countries have jogged, strutted, and danced in a colorful pageant to mark the start of the Sydney 2002 Gay Games. "Hello, strange and beautiful family," bellowed lesbian singer k.d. lang before serenading the estimated 25,000 athletes, aides, and spectators at a Sydney cricket field. Lang's rendition of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "You'll Never Walk Alone" was one of the breaks from an endless string of disco tunes welcoming athletes from around the world on Saturday.
The organizers gave recognition to the struggles of the gay activists of previous generations and the impact of AIDS on the gay community, with pictures of such high-profile AIDS casualties as actor Rock Hudson and rock singer Freddie Mercury being flashed on a giant TV screen. But flying under the banner "Participation, Inclusion, and Personal Best," the Gay Games--the sixth in 20 years--is clearly a celebration of sport
and life. "We are here to party, party, party," said Joanne Marsden, a doctor from New Zealand.
Mixing aerobics and same-sex ballroom dancing with traditional sports, organizers hope to draw 30,000 people and AU$100 million to Australia's biggest city, home to the 2000 Olympics and the flamboyant annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Wild dance parties and a cultural festival featuring the irreverent Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Bea Arthur, and scores of plays, exhibitions, and performances are on the agenda for the less athletically gifted.
Australian crooner Bob Downe kicked off the seven-day event with the lyrics "God bless Australia--skiing all summer and surfing all winter," referring to the Southern Hemisphere's seasons, which are the reverse of the North. Behind him dancers boogied in hot pants printed with the Australian flag. Those seated were given pom-poms and candles, the latter used by some as hand warmers after temperatures dropped to unseasonable levels. But no one was complaining as a constant stream of entertainers took their turn on the field.
The athletes, aged 18 to 89, proved just as entertaining, many garbed in outlandish takes on national costumes or prancing near-naked hand in hand to cheering spectators. Representatives from the Netherlands wore giant clogs on their feet, while a team from Florida donned pink flamingos on their heads. A group of Australian aborigines were dubbed the "Out Blacks." Some of the loudest applause was heard for the small contingent of Indian and Pakistani athletes, who opted to march together in a show of gay solidarity. Participants from countries in which homosexual relations are outlawed or otherwise proscribed, such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq, were also given a warm greeting.