Gay Games come full circle
by Roger Brigham
Dr. Tom Waddell and the inaugural board of directors for the first Gay Games in San Francisco in 1982 had a vision of a grassroots movement that could change perceptions and empowerment of the LGBT global community through sports. But Waddell also warned that folks running the event could expect seemingly endless hours of thankless labor, criticisms from every corner of the universe, and brutal infighting. In other words, the routine litmus test for all nonprofit volunteer organizations starting with no assets other than a dream and determination that decides who dies in a grave of could-have-beens and who soars into the skies of exhilarating exultation.
Which is what made last weekend's celebration of the Gay Games 25th anniversary so satisfactory and joyous. With a lavish banquet Saturday night that featured a silent auction and some of the biggest names in LGBT sports, followed by a Community Sports Day in the Castro showcasing Bay Area athletic endeavors, the Gay Games paid homage to the movement's pioneers, toasted the athletes who strive to achieve their personal bests, and welcomed in a new organizational structure that is already opening the door for more athletes, clubs, and cultural organizations around the world to have a strong say in the future of LGBT sports.
The dinner, the first of its kind for the Federation of Gay Games, was everything it was supposed to be: classy, lavish, funny, and moving. Past differences were set aside as roughly 300 diners laughed at the antics of Ant, listened to the witty ad lib emceeing of Lenny Broberg, watched a clever video showcasing Gay Games VIII host Cologne, and were visibly moved by booming, gut-wrenching aria sung by Esera Tuaolo when he helped present the Hero Award to fellow former NFL player David Kopay, the man whose coming out autobiography in 1975 set the stage for the explosion of the queer sports movement.
The Bay Area Reporter's Jim Provenzano, keynote speaker at the opening session earlier of the FGG's Assembly, received the Media Award presented by Olympic swimmer Bruce Hayes for his longtime coverage of gay sports and for the sports exhibit he curated for the GLBT Historical Society. The European Gay and Lesbian Sports Federation was presented the Legacy Award by Joanie Evans of London, outgoing female vice president of diversity, which was accepted in absentia by Emy Ritt of Paris, vice president of host relations. Helen Carroll accepted the Organization Award for the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights Sports Project from figure skaters Alan Lessik and John Manzon-Santos, who were successfully supported by NCLR in a case against the Berkeley Ice Rink.
The dinner opened and closed with speeches by honorary co-chairs Supervisor Bevan Dufty and Sara Waddell Lewenstein.
Looking out at a UCSF Mission Bay Center conference room filled to capacity, Dufty remarked, "I know this room would be fourfold but for the epidemic." Waddell Lewenstein noted how elated she had felt after working on Gay Games I with Waddell, who died of AIDS shortly after Gay Games II. Appearing with their daughter Jessica as she led a champagne toast to end the evening, Waddell Lewenstein said, "For Gay Games II, I lost some of the joy because I had to hold Tom's hand and knew I was losing my husband, her father, and a teacher of the world. But this would have made Tom proud."
The FGG expects to raise a five-figure gross from the event, but attendees hoped that in the long haul more important than the revenue generated by the dinner will be the setting aside of wounded feelings, replaced by the sense of the shared moment and the steps forward taken before and after the dinner by the FGG.
New FGG Assembly
Last week marked the inaugural meeting of the newly created FGG Assembly. Under the previous structure, the board had been composed of international single discipline organizations (such as International Frontrunners) and localized multiple discipline organizations (such as Team Vancouver). The new structure moves all organizations that were eligible for membership under the rules prior to 2006 off the board and into an assembly with two votes each. Now smaller single discipline/single city organizations such as San Francisco Track and Field Club are eligible for membership and have one vote each. The enlarged assembly votes on most matters and elects a board of directors, and the two-vote organizations select upcoming host cities.
Even with little communication efforts and virtually no proactive recruitment by the outgoing board for new officers, the immediate result was the infusion of more than a dozen new organizations over the past year into the federation. Having witnessed previous FGG annual meetings, I can attest the atmosphere at this year's meeting was electric rather than hysteric. After having fought for the survival of the Games after the financial losses of four consecutive Gay Games hosts and the defection of Montreal, this meeting was energized by the relief of having had a solvent Gay Games last year and an assembly room now teeming with delegates with impressive portfolios of technical, marketing, event management, and communications skills.
Of the board's 19 positions, 13 were up for vote this year. Only five incumbents stood for office and all were re-elected. Three of the federation's longest serving directors â€“ Co-President Kathleen Webster of Philadelphia and Vice President of Operations Charlie Carson of New York City (both on the board since 1994) and Officer of Technology Gene Dermody of San Francisco (who started in 1992 and has served longer than anyone else in federation history) â€“ all left the board, taking with them a combined 41 years of institutional knowledge.
Webster and Dermody announced their intent to leave the board before the meeting and were named Honorary Lifetime Members, along with Stephanie Johnstone of Canada and the late Ivan Bussens of London. Webster is succeeded by Ritt, who ran unopposed and will retain her title as vice president of host relations. The technology office was one of several contested offices; Jon Baldan of Sydney was elected over Israel Wright of Chicago.
"You can't lose with this one," said Dermody, who has worked extensively with Baldan and Wright. "They'll make a great team."
Carson was nominated for two offices but lost both elections to delegates from Seattle: Kelly Stevens was elected officer of communications, and Robby Davis was elected officer of ceremonies.
Kate Rowe of Sydney replaced outgoing Evans as female vice president of diversity; Chicago's Liz Valenti was elected the new vice president of operations and Ann Simonson as officer of culture; and Marc Naimark of Paris succeeded Mik ZuZu of Philadelphia as an officer of sports.
In other business Saturday, the FGG voted to table a proposal from Cape Town, South Africa, to host the 2008 annual meeting to allow other cities a chance to bid for the event; approved the sports inclusion and retention policy for Gay Games VIII unanimously; and passed resolutions supporting further encouragement of sports gender equality. Naimark, who shepherded the continued sports inclusion and retention discussion in 2007, was named Volunteer of the Year.
The new board met Monday, conducted exit interviews with outgoing board members, discarded a grievance that had been left dangling since mid-2006, and moved to create standardized procedures for future grievances by the end of January.
"The new board is moving ahead with positive thinking," said San Francisco's Doug Litwin, officer of marketing. "Grievances are being dealt with as expeditiously and fairly as possible so that issues that are in the past are left in the past."
Exit interviews and speedy settlement of past grievances: now, those are signs of an organization that is willing to learn from its past as it builds for its future.
Locals place in basketball tourney
The San Francisco Rockdogs took second place in the A division of a National Gay Basketball Association-sponsored tournament over the weekend, losing to Chicago in the final. The San Francisco Shock placed third in the bracket after losing to host Memphis in the semis.
The San Francisco Gay Basketball Association is in the process of approving new bylaws and applying for tax-exempt status. The inaugural board of directors selecting through online voting includes Commissioner Pete Meyers, Vice Commissioner Chris Johnson, Secretary Tom Tantillo and at-large members Anwar White, Eric Broadhurst, Francis Broome, Joel Brown and Stuart Leung.
Anniversary benefit for martial arts
The Triangle Martial Arts Association will hold its ninth anniversary banquet and awards benefit Saturday, November 10 at 7 p.m. in the LGBT Community Center, 1800 Market Street.
Community and student awards will be made and the organization will honor Castro Community on Patrol, Gay Games founder Dr. Tom Waddell and the Reverend Megan M. Roher, director of the Wellness Ministry.
Tickets are $50 per person and $80 per couple, Reservations may be made by e-mailing info@TriangleMAA.org or by calling (415) 992-5551.
Nonprofit TMAA was founded following the murder of Matthew Shepard in 1998 and focuses on multi-disciplinary self-defense training for LGBTQQI, senior, disabled and low-income individuals. More information about the organization and its programs may be found by visiting www.TriangleMAA.org.
Ski and snowboard club social set
The next SAGA North ski and snowboard club winter social potluck will be 6 to 8:30 p.m. Sunday, November 11 in Building C at the Fort Mason center. Local pro shop representatives will be the guest speakers to present information on the latest ski and snowboard equipment and its maintenance. There will also be a presentation on ski and snowboard fitness training. SAGA North activities for the winter season include weekend trips to Lake Tahoe resorts and extended trips to Aspen, Whistler and Utah.
Information on SAGA North and its year-round outdoor activities may be found by visiting www.saganorth.com.