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WeHo Councilmember John Heilman Races for LGBTQ Rights at Gay Games

John Heilman

The activist and former mayor is raising money for a Global Emergency Fund with OutRight Action International. 

A West Hollywood City Council member's tradition of running races for the causes he believes in takes on particular meaning at the 2018 Gay Games in Paris next week.

"The Gay Games is such an incredible event," John Heilman told The Advocate. "It brings together LGBTQI athletes and our allies from around the world. The Gay Games have always been about dispelling stereotypes and prejudice."

The eight-time WeHo mayor will be competing in two 10K races and a half-marathon during the international athletic/cultural event, which will run August 4-12 and is expected to bring in 15,000 participants from more than 70 countries. He is using his races to promote a GoFundMe campaign to raise $20,000 for a Global Emergency Fund with OutRight Action International, for which he is a board member. So far he has raised upwards of $12,600.

Heilman has been running marathons to promote social causes since 1999, and previously competed in the Gay Games as a volleyball player.

"Typically the Gay Games provides a platform to discuss the fight for LGBTQI equality," he said. "When I was making my plans to participate in the games, I asked how could I use that participation to make a difference. As a board member of OutRight International, we have been discussing the need for additional resources to help LGBTQI activists in other parts of the world when they are threatened with physical violence and arrest."

In his fundraiser announcement, Heilman said that while there has been progress for the queer community in the United States, homosexuality is still a crime in 70 countries and in some places punishable by death.

"Last year was one of the worst for global LGBTQI movements. LGBTQI people have been subject to mass arrests in Chechnya, Egypt, Indonesia, Tanzania, Azerbaijan, and beyond. Often governments are complicit in violent attacks on LGBTQI people. And the attacks are only increasing."

With recent headlines about Attorney General Jeff Sessions setting up a so-called religious freedom task force to protect discrimination against LGBTQI people on religious grounds, Heilman is also advocating for causes closer to home.

"We still have plenty of battles in the United States to fight," he told The Advocate. "The current administration has a deep hostility to LGBTQI people and our movement for equality. In the past, the Department of Justice and the State Department fought to expand equal rights for our community. Now we have an administration that is doing everything it can to undermine our progress."

Despite similar populist backlash in the 2017 French presidential election, in which far-right candidate Marine Le Pen opposed same-sex marriage and adoption by LGBT parents but appealed to the community with promises of protection against Islamist violence, Heilman said that Paris was the perfect location for this year's Gay Games and for the ongoing discussion about LGBTQI rights.

"Paris is a wonderful city with a rich culture. The former mayor of Paris [Bertrand Delanoe] was openly gay, which is an incredible achievement which seemed unimaginable when I was first elected in 1984. Paris has a long history of being a welcoming place for LGBTQI people. People from all around the world view Paris as a special and magical city."

Heilman is the longest-serving openly gay elected official in the U.S.

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