The Gay Games is the world's largest sporting and cultural event organized by and specifically for LGBT athletes, artists, musicians, and others. It welcomes participants of every sexual orientation and every skill level. Originally called the Gay Olympics, it was started in San Francisco in 1982, as the brainchild of Tom Waddell, whose goals were to promote the spirit of inclusion and participation, as well as the pursuit of personal growth in a sporting event.
The Gay Games is open to all who wish to participate, without regard to sexual orientation. There are no qualifying standards to compete in the Gay Games. It brings together people from all over the world, many from countries where homosexuality remains illegal and hidden.
The Federation of Gay Games (FGG) is the sanctioning body of the Gay Games. From its statement of concept and purpose:
|“||The purpose of the Federation of Gay Games is to foster and augment the self-respect of lesbians and gay men throughout the world and to engender respect and understanding from the nongay world, primarily through an organized international participatory athletic and cultural event held every four years, and commonly known as the Gay Games.||”|
|I||1982||San Francisco||United States|
|II||1986||San Francisco||United States|
|IV||1994||New York City||United States|
Gay Games VI were held in Chicago, USA from July 15 to July 22, 2006. For more on the controversy surrounding Chicago's selection as host city, see Schism in LGBT sports communities over Gay Games VII below.
Gay Games VIII will be held in Cologne, Germany from July 31 to August 6, 2010. Cologne was elected at the FGG annual meeting in Chicago on 14 November 2005. This marks the second time the Games will be held in Europe. The first being in Amsterdam in 1998.
Dr. Tom Waddell, the former Olympian, who helped found the Gay Games, intended the Gay Games to be called the "Gay Olympics," but a lawsuit filed less than three weeks before 1982's inaugural Gay Olympics forced the name change.
Event organizers were sued by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) under the U.S. Amateur Sports Act of 1978, which gave the USOC exclusive rights to the word Olympic in the United States. Defendants of the lawsuit contended that the law was capriciously applied and that if the Nebraska Rat Olympics and the Police Olympics did not face similar lawsuits, neither should the Gay Olympics.
Some, like Jeff Sheehy, coauthor of San Francisco's domestic partner legislation and former president of the Harvey Milk Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Democratic Club, believed homophobia to be a motivation behind the lawsuit. They cite the authorized use of the word "Olympics" by the Special Olympics and other organizations as evidence of this homophobia.
Others, like Daniel Bell, cite the IOC's long history of protecting the Olympics brand as evidence that the lawsuit against the "Gay Olympics" was not motivated by discrimination against gays. Since 1910 the IOC has taken action, including lawsuits and expulsion from the IOC, to stop other organizations from using the word "Olympics."
A 2009 documentary film called "Claiming the Title: Gay Olympics on Trial" was created in the USA and has previewed at several film festivals. The subject was also included in a film by David Sector, called "Take the Flame! Gay Games: Grace Grit & Glory".
In the years since the lawsuit, the Olympics and the Gay Games have set aside their initial hostilities and worked cooperatively together, successfully lobbying to have HIV travel restrictions waived for the 1994 Gay Games in New York and the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
In 2001, the bidding organization from Montréal, Canada won the right to negotiate with Federation of Gay Games (FGG) for a licensing agreement to host the 2006 Gay Games, but after two years of failed negotiations Montreal broke off talks at the 2003 FGG annual meeting in Chicago. There were three main points of contention, over which neither party could agree:
In a weakening global economy following international terrorist attacks, including 9/11, the FGG wanted Montréal to be able to plan for a successful Gay Games even if participation did not meet Montréal's optimistic projection of 24,000 participants, twice the level of participation of the previous Gay Games in 2002. Due to financial problems in previous events, the FGG also asked for transparency into Montréal 2006's financial activities. After Montréal refused to continue talks, the FGG held a second round of bidding in which Chicago and Los Angeles bidders, who had put forth well-received bids to host the 2006 games in the first round along with Montréal and Atlanta, chose to bid. Ultimately, the FGG awarded Gay Games VII to Chicago Games, Inc.
The Montréal organizing committee nevertheless decided to proceed to hold an athletic and cultural event without the sanction of the FGG; this plan developed into the first edition of the World Outgames, and the creation of its sanctioning body, the Gay and Lesbian International Sport Association.
Due to limited personal and organizational resources, many individual and team participants were forced to choose between Gay Games Chicago and World Outgames Montréal, a situation exacerbated by the two events being a week apart. The closing ceremony of Gay Games Chicago on 22 July 2006 was only 7 days before the opening ceremony of World Outgames Montréal on 29 July 2006. This meant that those who competed or performed in Chicago would have little recovery time before Montréal. The split resulted in a lower quality of athletic competition at both events because neither could claim the whole field of competitors. Team and individual sports were hurt alike. Few teams were able to field complete squads for both events; In wrestling, 100 wrestlers competed in Chicago (comparable to previous Gay Games), but only 22 competed in Montréal, by far the lowest number for any major international tournament. There was some advantages to the games being so close together time wise and location wise. For some overseas participants who had to travel far, the convenience of the two events being only a week apart and not far from each other enabled them to attend both. Many did not attend at all. After Chicago drew approximately 12,000 participants, Montréal drew an estimated 8,000 athletes—a third of the organization's original projections."
Since 2006, the need for a secondary global multisport event has been the subject of much debate, especially after the final financial figures for 2006 were released. The Chicago Gay Games VII ended with no debt and all bills paid. In contrast, the Montréal World Outgames ended with 5.3M Canadian dollars of debt."