Jock Talk: Lifters unite
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Powerlifting is fighting for its Gay Games life.
It is a quintessential LGBT sport, embodying the values of inclusion and participation by offering opportunities for anyone regardless of gender, orientation, size, or age to compete against peers. It is an activity that has been used for decades by countless HIV-positive athletes to help with their strength, sense of self worth, and overall health. It has been represented in the Gay Games since their inception in 1982 in San Francisco.
But currently the sport has no member organization in the Federation of Gay Games. In 2014, powerlifting participation at Gay Games IX in Cleveland was down, and the host organization had to scramble to find a suitable group to organize the tournament. Next year, Gay Games X in Paris will not offer powerlifting at all.
Why? Well, talk with past Gay Games representatives, and they will tell you about the headache of organizing the event and the difficulty of reconciling the World Anti-Doping Association's drug testing requirements, which do not make exemptions for steroids used to treat some AIDS-related conditions such as facial wasting, with the event's mission.
Fortunately, the sport is blessed with strong men and women who are used to fighting for what they need and want and are more than capable of winning. Fortunately, powerlifter Chris Morgan, a Gay Games ambassador, knows first hand the difference lifting in the Gay Games can make in people's lives and was determined to do something about it.
So he did.
In late July, athletes from the United States, Britain, Australia, Belarussia, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Canada, and France competed in the inaugural LGBT International Powerlifting Championships in London. They founded the LGBT Powerlifting Union to run an annual championship. Their goal is to return to the Gay Games in 2022.
Charlotte Wareing, a two-time world champion and four-time European champion; and Morgan, an eight-time world champion who got his competition start at the 1998 Gay Games in Amsterdam, were named co-presidents of the new organization.
The inaugural championships "provided an opportunity to begin organizing our affairs in preparation for re-entering the Gay Games in 2022," Morgan said. "We aim now to continue discussions with the FGG and enter discussions with mainstream powerlifting federations to make certain that LGBT powerlifting continues to grow globally."
Wareing said, "It is essential that we adopt a sports model that attracts as many lifters as possible to participate in LGBT lifting, including people who in the past may have been discriminated against due to their gender, sexuality or HIV status. Gay Games adopts the principles in inclusion, participation, and pursuit of personal best, and we aim to stay true to these principles through the new LGBT Powerlifting Union."
Lifter Ben Gilliam of Denver was chosen as the U.S. representative for the union.
"America has a large powerlifting community and our goal is to open a new way for powerlifters from any walk of life, including straight friends of the LGBT community, to come compete and support LGBT individuals who may have been intimidated or unwelcome at traditional powerlifting events," Gilliam said. "As someone who has been in the lifting world for more than 25 years as a gym owner, sports nutrition company owner, and lifter, I encourage every lifter â€" even if you've never competed before â€" to come join us in 2018 for what promises to be a transformative experience in the LGBT global community."
After winning gold, Gilliam posted on Facebook, "This gold medal means more to me than any other I've ever earned â€" not because it was an international competition, but because of what it stands for: inclusion and acceptance of everyone no matter who they are. Weight plates have no prejudices: they don't care what color you are, what gender you are, what religion you have or how you choose to identify yourself. Whatever you give the weight in terms of effort and hard work, it will give it back tenfold in terms of empowerment and glory. I feel I came to London as a stranger and gained a whole new family to add to the already amazing family and friends I am blessed to have."
The 2018 championship will be held at Bethnal Green Weightlifting Club in London July 28 â€" the Saturday before the opening of Gay Games X. Competitions will include equipped and unequipped full powerlifting, single lift squat, single lift bench, and single lift deadlift. Weekend activities will include a novice coaching clinic, an athletes banquet, and a closing party.
Small individual sports such as martial arts, wrestling, and powerlifting struggle to be part of large LGBT sports festivals such as the Gay Games as event organizers are reluctant or unable to provide the intensive, granular support the sports require. But they go to the heart of an inclusive mission, as they provide opportunities for athletes who may not fit into speed- and size-based team sports.
Martial arts and wrestling have survived because of the logistical support and expertise their member organizations bring. Powerlifting has struggled largely because of the burden of reconciling mission with WADA sanctions. The championships and the new union are designed to resolve the difficulties and provide better support for future Gay Games hosts.
"With powerlifting not being included in the Gay Games in 2018, there was a real danger that LGBT powerlifting could disappear entirely," Morgan told the Bay Area Reporter. "Having started my career at the Gay Games in 1998, there is no way I could allow that to happen, so I contacted Dominic Patmore and the Bethnal Green Weightlifting Club and asked for their help. They are a wonderful club with a real commitment to diversity. Year two will be all about outreach and attracting more participants and increasing our list of participating nations. We have a bidding process under way for 2019, 2020, and 2021 with several expressions of interest already. I will be in Paris assisting FGG with their scholarship program and press, media and ceremonial duties. I think it's best to look forward and be positive."
For more information, pictures and results when they become available, visit the LGBT International Powerlifting Championships Facebook page, or http://www.lgbtpowerlifting.org.