Gay Games 2023 builds sanctuary for LGBTQ+ athletes in Hong Kong and Guadalajara

Wrestling referee holds the winner's hand at the end of the match.
Photo by Cyd Zeigler

For the past 41 years, the Gay Games has served as an inclusive international event for athletes of all genders and sexual orientations, and when it returns this November it will be more inclusive than ever. After decades of convening solely in North America, Europe, and Australia, this “LGBTQ Olympics” will be hosted simultaneously in the cities of Hong Kong and Guadalajara.

“We are energized by this opportunity to organize the first Gay Games in Asia and in Latin America,” announced Sean Fitzgerald, co-president of the Federation of Gay Games. “We are embarking on a mountain of feasibility studies and collaboration between FGG, Hong Kong, and Guadalajara. The passion of these teams will bring to life the vision of Dr. Tom Waddell and the mission of the Gay Games: participation, inclusion, and personal best.”

For those uninitiated in the history of the Gay Games, the aforementioned Waddell was a former Olympic decathlete who co-founded the first Gay Olympics in 1982 which was hosted in the queer mecca of San Francisco. Waddell and the other organizers were forced to rename the event the Gay Games after the International Olympic Committee spanked them with a lawsuit over the use of the word “Olympics.” The legal action has been criticized as potentially being fueled by homophobia in light of the fact that the IOC has allowed the term to be used by other events, such as the Special Olympics. This potential discrimination reflected the bigotry queer competitors faced during the high of the AIDS epidemic and exemplifies the necessity of safe spaces for LGBTQ athletics.

Four Gay Games medalists standing side by side, posing for the camera.
US wrestlers flaunt their medals at Gay Games 2018 in Paris. Photo provided by the Southern California Wrestling Club.

Despite this initial hurdle placed by the IOC, the Gay Games eventually pwn’ed its heteronormative counterpart in 1994. As a commemoration of the Stonewall Riots, Gay Games IV was held in New York City and boasted 10,864 athletes, overshadowing the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona which featured only 9,356 participants. GGIV featured gay Olympic diver Greg Louganis as its announcer and Sir Ian McKellan orated its closing address in Yankee Stadium. That year also expanded from its initial 16 sporting events to 31, including flag football, figure skating, and the first-ever internationally sanctioned women’s wrestling. For Andrew Farrell, an Australian wrestler who won a gold medal at the 2018 Gay Games in Paris, these events offer queer athletes not only a venue to compete but also sanctuary.

Wrestling referee holds the winner's hand at the end of the match.
Photo provided by Andrew Farrell

“There’s a lot of people coming from countries that are not so LGBTQ friendly: the United Emirates, Saudi Arabia, China, Russia,” explained Farrell during a 2018 interview with INTO Magazine. “It takes a lot of courage to do that. You’re putting your name out there when your country, and your government, might not necessarily be supportive of that. The fact that they’re still competing so fiercely, I find that very motivating myself, to try to push harder. Everyone put in their best effort, that’s the inspiration for me.”

This respect for fellow queer athletes was echoed by Mark Wussler, a US swimmer from Maui who garnered six gold medals at the Paris Gay Games.

Gold medalist at The Gay Games in Paris 2018
Photo provided by Mark Wussler

“I got a chance to visit with two Ugandan women swimmers,” said Wussler. “They face pretty bad discrimination and even death threats in their home country. I just told them that everyone at the swimming venue was talking about them and was so proud of their courage and determination. We take so much for granted and those of us who struggled many years ago through discrimination, and of course the AIDS crisis, came out strong and resolved to live an open and loving life. But when you hear about the kind of blatant and brutal hatred still present in some countries it really drives home the point on why we have to have these kinds of gatherings.”

Over four decades later, the Gay Games continues to provide safe spaces for queer athletes, now across two continents at once.