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What would a huge gathering of LGBT people be without pageantry and controversy? Every four years since 1982, the Gay Games opening and closing ceremonies have seen a bit of both.
Now Montreal' s OutGames has its own controversy by booking the performing company that fired Matthew Cusick, a gay gymnast, for being HIV-positive. In an ironic twist, Gay Games Chicago's events will feature the acrobatic performing group that subsequently hired Cusick.
Cirque du Soleil, internationally known for its creative trapeze shows, will headline OutGames' opening ceremonies, to be held July 29 at Montreal's Olympic arena. The New York City-based AntiGravity gymnastics and dance performance company will perform at Chicago's opening event, to be held at Wrigley Field July 15 (the Games continue through July 22).
"We hired Matthew because he's a great athlete and a great team member," said Christopher Harrison, artistic director of AntiGravity. "I think Cirque lost by not having him on their team."
In 2003, after training Cusick for eight months in Montreal, Cirque representatives denied, but then admitted, that they had fired Cusick solely for being HIV-positive.
A subsequent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission decision confirmed that Cirque had discriminated against Cusick in his dismissal. When Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund took on Cusick as a client, Cirque paid him a settlement of more than $600,000.
Jean-Yves Duthel, spokesman for OutGames, bristled at questions about C irque's inclusion at OutGames. " The U.S. government discriminates against anyone living with HIV who wishes to enter their country," Duthel said. "Numerous states are passing or have passed legislation allowing them to violate the rights of gays and lesbians. At least Cirque du Soleil recognized its mistake, compensated the injured party, and changed its policies."
Hayley Gorenberg, the Lambda Legal attorney representing Cusick , said, "It's important that people understand the history of what happened. One of the things we're looking for here is progress. If Cirque is performing [at OutGames], then they're aware of that progress." Gorenberg said that Cusick's case serves "to make sure that the past doesn't repeat itself."
AntiGravity's Harrison says that a gymnast's HIV status "has nothing to do with one's ability to be a great performer. I think Cirque learned a big lesson. It was a bad judgment error." Harrison added that several ensemble members from Antigravity and Cirque have worked with both companies. AntiGravity has performed at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, and tours internationally, but is smaller than Cirque, which has several companies performing around the world.
Previous opening ceremonies have endured different controversies. At the first Gay Games, held in San Francisco in 1982, projecting an image of LGBT athletes became controversial. Tina Turner performed, but that wasn't the controversy. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, the famous San Francisco group of men who wear nuns' habits, had helped raise funds for the first Games at basketball events.
But when they asked to lead the parade of athletes, Games founder Dr. Tom Waddell refused, saying that he wanted the media to focus on athletes. Paul Mart, then a board member for Gay Games I, said that the Sisters insisted on marching anyway. "We had to lock some of them up in a bathroom at the s tadium until after it was over," said Mart.
Subsequent Games saw larger ceremonies and larger budgets. Held in New York City's Shea Stadium, 1994's Gay Games IV's closing ceremonies included performances, speeches, and dance numbers. Cyndi Lauper and Patti LaBelle sang. But the event's costs contributed to the eventual bankruptcy of the host organization.
Amsterdam's Gay Games V ceremonies, held in 1998, included hundreds of stripping male dancers, The Weather Girls, and an array of performers that lasted hours. Amsterdam's Games suffered a large-scale financial crisis only later alleviated by locally funded bailouts.
Sydney's Gay Games VI opening ceremonies, held in 2002, were partially blamed for the eventual bankruptcy of the Australian organization that produced the Games.
Part of the 2003 contract rift between the Federation of Gay Games and Montreal organizers of what is now the first OutGames, was the issue of financial accountability. FGG board members didn't want previous budget problems to occur again, but Montreal representatives refused to permit any supervision from FGG.
For both the opening and closing ceremonies in Chicago next summer, Kile Ozier, who produced Gay Games IV's ceremonies, will bring together performing artists to participate in a spectacle aimed at coming in under budget.
Chicago Games Inc. is also in negotiations to sign a few well-known singers to the event. Sir Elton John has been named as an ambassador for the Games, but has not been named as a performer. Q Television will broadcast daily coverage of Chicago Games and ceremonies, and Radio-Canada will do the same for the OutGames.
Somewhere in the midst of the spectacles, AntiGravity's Cusick will be tumbling and dancing for Chicago audiences. When not performing, Cusick appears at speaking engagements and benefits to raise awareness for HIV discrimination.
Had Cirque du Soleil not had to undergo what its representatives called a "learning process," Cusick may well have been performing in Montreal instead. Their loss is Chicago's gain.
Team uniforms available
If you're planning on marching in the opening ceremonies of either Gay Games VII or OutGames I, team uniforms are an essential part of this celebration.
At recent events and meetings, Team San Francisco has presented its design for the uniforms to be used for the opening and closing ceremonies at the Gay Games. The uniform components include a jacket, T-shirt, and team pin for $77. Athletes wishing to march in the opening and closing ceremonies with their teammates will need to at least have the jacket (which can be purchases a la carte for $70).
These prices are reserved for currently registered Team San Francisco members. The cost of becoming a Team San Francisco member is $25 per year. Manufactured by Sugoi, the company that produced the coveted Vancouver uniforms, each jacket can have your sport written down the right hand side of the front of the jacket.
Because San Francisco is the birthplace of the Gay Games, San Francisco will be the first city to march in after the host (Chicago). Mail forms and checks payable to: Team San Francisco, 2215R Market Street - PMB 519, San Francisco, CA 94114-1612. Uniform questions? E-mail Thom Mullins at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit http://www.teamsf.org.
For OutGames, Equipe SF's online store will sell uniforms starting this month. The custom designed jackets have been completed and are currently in the hands of our manufacturer. Total cost of the team uniform is $80, inclusive of all taxes and online processing fees. Other items such as T-shirts, pins, hats, and jackets will be available soon. The deadline to pay and order Equipe SF uniforms is Wednesday, March 1. For more info, visit http://equipesf.tripod.com.
Read more sports columns at http://www.sportscomplex.org.