Outgames a go
Montreal has sports its own way
by Jim Provenzano
In what will probably go down in history as the most expensive LGBT sports event ever, the first World Outgames opened in Montreal July 29, hot on the heels of Gay Games VII, which concluded July 22.
The Quebec city's Olympic Stadium, lit up in a dazzling light show, filled the floor with participants as paid audience members filled at least the first tier of seats. Only days before opening ceremonies, a rushed two-for-one sale was announced, in an attempt to fill the stadium and beef up slumping ticket sales, according to reports.
Images showed a stage that resembled a rock show, with circular lit set pieces that bore an odd resemblance to McDonald's golden arches. Performers and speakers kicked off the Montreal games with pronouncements, self-congratulations, and more than a bit of song and dance.
Martha Wash and k.d. lang performed favorite songs. Cirque du Soleil, the Canadian circus group, offered up clowns and a muscular balancing duo act coated in gold.
Mark Tewksbury, 1992 Olympic swimming gold medalist and Montreal 2006 co-president, said in his speech at the ceremonies, "When I swam at the Olympics in Seoul I felt all alone. I don't feel like that anymore. Together we have all made this happen. Long live the Outgames and long live your memories of being among the first!"
So, Outgames got its way. While Chicago tightened its belt to produce what is reported as the first financially successful Games since 1986, by avoiding financial control from the Federation of Gay Games in producing its own version, Montreal got the most lavish queer sports event in history.
Outgames received millions of dollars from local and provincial governments, and a few more million from Tourism Montreal. Combining pride events and a large-scale human rights conference that preceded the Outgames brought sports as a mere third piece of this gargantuan festival. Along with a registration fee of nearly $300 (Canadian) it was one of the most expensive LGBT sports events ever for investors and participants.
And while Tewksbury and paid endorser Martina Navratilova read a Declaration of Human Rights at the opening ceremonies, Outgames press releases left out one distinct moment, when thousands of audience members booed at the mention of recently elected Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The conservative PM had vowed to revoke Canada's gay marriage rights for citizens, sparking outrage from LGBT people.
(Gay Games ambassadors such as Esera Tuaolo were given airfare and a few days' hotel stay for being part of opening ceremonies, but as a competitor, Tuaolo registered on his own. Billy Bean also was an ambassador but played tennis at his own expense.)
In a news conference before the Outgames opening ceremonies, lang, who like Harper, is from Alberta, Canada, said, "It's a sad statement that the national leader of a country that's one of the most progressive countries in the world chooses to support intolerance."
Harper was a no-show at the Outgames, but his substitute, Public Works Minister Michael Fortier, suffered the crowd's indignation.
According to the Montreal Gazette, "Fortier's remarks were swallowed up in a rising tide of boos which grew even more deafening as much of the crowd began slamming their folding seats up and down. It was not lost on those in attendance that Harper has promised to revisit the issue of same-sex marriage in Parliament. 'Shame! Shame! Shame!' spectators cried, wagging their upraised fingers in unison."
Fortier was defended by Montreal's mayor, Gerald Tremblay, who was greeted with a five-minute standing ovation. He tried unsuccessfully to start his speech only to be interrupted by more friendly cheers. "I know some of you are from nations where your sexual orientation can send you to jail or even cause your death," Tremblay said. "Your presence here encourages us to continue working for a better world."
While a live performance was rumored to take place, Canadian singing star Celine Dion welcomed the athletes to Outgames â€“ via videotape. "The first World Outgames in Montreal are a wonderful occasion to celebrate the love that binds us," she said in the recorded message. "It is a celebration of sport, culture and human rights in a spirit of true inclusion regardless of sexual orientation. I know in my heart that the Outgames will be an unforgettable moment in our struggle for tolerance."
With the showy glamour of opening ceremonies completed, actual sports competition began the next day, July 30. As with Chicago, a few glitches were noted, but most sports events of the first few days have gone well, according to reports.
"Organization here is splendid," said San Francisco track athlete Giampiero Mancinelli, in an e-mail. Mancinelli also competed in several track and field events at Chicago's Games. "Opening was awesome, happy, and short," he added. "The city is fantastic and gay-friendly to no end. The Outgames are the city of Montreal right now. The boys are cute and friendly, too."
Mancinelli noted that medal presentations were much more festive than at Chicago venues, with music and more impressive medal stands. "More importantly," he wrote, "wrestling, volleyball, water polo, soccer, and diving are 50 feet away from the track." One of the complaints about Gay Games VII was the distance between many sports venues.
And in a more international flair than Chicago's Games, which had a reported 70 percent U.S. participation, in
The past controversies that led to the split between the Gay Games and the Outgames having been put aside for now, athletes and participants will continue their joyous â€“ if not guileless â€“ involvement in the newest branch of the LGBT sports movement.
All about Yves: A commentary, with facts
But the controversies are many, and bear repeating. This is where a summation of fact and opinion is required.
The most current was the browbeating Outgames organizers gave the Chicago Games over HIV visa issues. Yet while Gay Games VII organizers got approval of a waiver, as had been done for 1994's Gay Games IV in New York City, at the Outgames, many of the nearly 300 participants denied visas into Canada for either Outgames or the human rights conference were still unable to cross Canadian borders.
In press statements, Outgames organizers had gleefully pounced on U.S. HIV laws as discriminatory. Yet this week, an entire soccer team from Cameroon was denied entry to Canada. Many more were denied under suspicion of being criminals. All Chicago's foreign participants were eventually given visas.
Until recently, Outgames organizers still claimed that they would get 16,000 participants. Yet they are almost tied with Chicago, with around 12,000. But 2,000 of those were only in Montreal for the human rights conference, leaving Chicago in the lead over that competition.
And while co-president Tewksbury called Outgames participants, "among the first" in his opening ceremonies speech, to this day, Montreal 2006's Web site is still listed under search results as being not the first, but the "official seventh Gay Games."
The fact that Outgames organizers have yet to repair this deliberately misleading error is symbolic of the shell game campaign Outgames have led since it broke ranks with the Federation of Gay Games and refused to sign a 13th draft of contracts back in 2003.
A veritable hornet's nest of deceptions and allegations have continued since 2004: stolen mailing lists, attacks on the FGG, questionable announcements about a second Outgames host, reducing 24 years of LGBT sports history to a "trademark" while stealing trademarked phrases from the FGG. Goodness, reporting about the gay sports movement has never been so thoroughly derailed.
Most vituperative among those involved in the war of words is former Outgames publicist Jean Yves Duthel. Before being dismissed from his Outgames position as a million-dollar defamation lawsuit was filed against he and Outgames organizers by a Montreal beer distributor, Duthel put forth volley after volley of lies and accusations, including this gem, quoted in the Advocate in April 2004: "We don't have anything against Chicago, but good luck. They have no money."
Actually, Chicago received millions of dollars in cash investments and the support of over 350 corporate sponsors. Chicago organizers and their sponsors fended off right-wing Christian protesters, who also showed up in Montreal last week, hundreds more than the few dozen in Chicago.
Most important, and omitted from the mainstream media, which reduces the years-long saga to a few sentences over "finances," is the fact that with millions already invested, Montreal plotted to host their own games long before the 2003 contract disputes. These and other events have been documented in this publication.
The point is, despite such controversies, Outgames is proving to be a lot of fun for participants who don't mind watching a show performed by Cirque du Soleil, which a few years ago settled an HIV discrimination lawsuit brought by Matthew Cusick.
And Outgames is convenient for LGBT athletes who prefer to make an apt political statement by boycotting the U.S., while supporting the fact that Canada refused to play a role in the despicable Iraq "war."
Beyond politics, the Outgames doubled the amount of LGBT athletic participation this summer. That's undeniable and appreciated.
But for me, its organizers, most of whom lied to me point blank in multiple interviews, will always be collectively considered the "Eve Harrington" of the gay sports movement. It stole the older more venerable Games' style and format, but not its history.
The Gay Games are rooted in a battle against the mainstream U.S. Olympics Committee over the use of a word. The Outgames are rooted in a bitch fight over money.
Sure, the Outgames may have a splashier beginning, deep pockets, and it's certainly younger. But not unlike the conniving actress in the classic film All About Eve , its roots of success have a sordid history of deceit and deception. And that's a fact no amount of glitter and glamour can change.
Congratulations, Outgames. You had it your way, your petulant, arrogant, over-the-top way. How nice for you. How nice for everyone.
Read more columns at www.sportscomplex.org.