Jock Talk: Meet the Gay Games sports officers
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At the annual membership meeting of the Federation of Gay Games last year, two longtime inclusive sports activists — track athlete Reggie Snowden of San Francisco and veteran soccer official Kimberly Hadley of Edmonton, Alberta — were elected male and female sports officers. I recently asked both of them via email about the importance of volunteering in LGBT-inclusive sports and their thoughts about the future of the Gay Games.
"As a long-serving member of the International Gay and Lesbian Football Association board, I understood the importance of volunteering my time. I have a great belief that organizing sports events for LGBTQ+ individuals provides a opportunity for creating a catalyst for positive change," Hadley wrote. "I have been a professional soccer referee for 43 years and have served as the North American referee director for the International Gay and Lesbian Football Association since 2007. My first involvement with the Gay Games was as a referee during Gay Games VIII in Cologne, Germany in 2010. Since then, I was responsible for soccer referees during both Gay IX in 2014 and Gay Games X in 2018."
Snowden said that he has been a strong supporter and participant of Gay Games since 1994.
"When I was 29, I was excited to attend the Gay Games in New York City competing in track and field," he wrote. "I competed in the 110-m hurdles, 400-m hurdles, triple jump, long jump and 4x400 relay. As a hurdler, I have always enjoyed the mechanics of the event and was fortunate enough to have some top coaches help me out along the way. I was All American my senior year in high school.
"After competing in college, I stopped for a few years," he added. "When I moved to San Francisco in 1992 and I heard about Gay Games in 1993, I was thrilled to train again. I have also participated in the Gay Games in Sydney, Cologne, and Cleveland, but ended up nursing a knee injury prior to Paris. After being a delegate for International Front Runners to the FGG, the next natural step was to bring my experience as an avid athlete to the federation."
The two were asked about Gay Games' greatest strengths.
"Participation, inclusion, and personal best — that says it all," Hadley wrote.
Snowden wrote, "I think the greatest strength is having the ability to bring the community together globally every four years. It's amazing how many friends I have made since 1994 due to attending Gay Games. Regardless of the levels that range from beginning runners to competitive runners, I have witnessed long-lasting relationships that have formed. Due to social media, a lot of us are able to keep connected. Also, I believe one of the strengths has been with communications from year to year in most sports."
As for improvements, the two offered some ideas.
"The FGG is the leader in the LGBTQ+ sports and cultural global community," wrote Hadley. "We are not a political organization — that isn't our role. Being able to continue to provide opportunities in new areas of the world where we haven't had a large visibility to date is vital to reaching those individuals who need our help. I have continued to encourage the FGG to create smaller versions of the event and hold them in underrepresented areas of the world where they may become an even greater impact than the current event itself. This hasn't come to fruition yet, but I have confidence that it will."
Snowden said it would be great to see Gay Games in Africa or a Latin American country eventually.
"The impact would be amazing. It was great to participate in Amsterdam in 1998 and to see the excitement on European soil for the first time," he wrote. "I met new athletes I would have not been able to have met before. The same can be said for Sydney and even Cleveland. It was foreign soil for me because I had never been to that region of my own country. Hong Kong will be amazing in 2022 and I'm honored to be on board to face the challenges with organizing this event with all the knowledge gained from previous years."
Hadley and Snowden were asked what led them to volunteer for the sports officer positions.
"This became a natural step for me to take with my extensive background with participation in various sports, as well as the organizing of single and multi-sports international events over the years," Hadley wrote.
Snowden explained, "I have been organizing events since college as a resident adviser when I organized softball, volleyball, and basketball tournaments. After moving to San Francisco, I have always remained active with our community by volunteering for city officials and working with nonprofit organizations."
He said that he's organized two San Francisco Pride Runs.
"This has inspired me to give back to the community that has inspired me for many years," Snowden added. "The efforts of the federation to keep founder Dr. Tom Waddell's dream alive through sport has encouraged me to bring my efforts to keeping Gay Games alive."
The two were asked about their greatest Gay Games memory.
"Seeing the expressions on the faces of new participants — especially those who had received a scholarship in order to attend," Hadley wrote. "To speak with these individuals after they have experienced a life-changing opportunity and hear from them what it is that they will do to invigorate and share their experiences while keeping the momentum going once they return to their homelands."
Snowden said it was closing ceremonies in New York.
"After all the athletes gathered outside of the stadium in New York City, it was the closing of an amazing week of competition and great relief by competing at the top in the 18-29 age group and to walk away with four gold medals and a silver," he wrote. "As the SF Track and Field Club came around the corner, I had my training partner, Gwynn Villegas, on my shoulders. As we entered the stadium, almost every seat was filled as we heard a voice yell, 'Hey, SF Track & Field! Look this way — SF Chronicle!' The next day, the memory was in the San Francisco Chronicle for an unforgettable moment."
As for World Outgames, Hadley said she wants people to know that FGG carefully considered the offer to have one event.
"My hope is that the LGBTQ+ sporting world understands that the FGG did its due diligence when it came down to the talks for the opportunity to create a 'One World Event.' In the end, it was the lack of transparency and the lack of proper documentation when it came down to financial disclosure that determined that the FGG needed to continue onward and upward as the global LGBTQ+ event," she wrote.
"Going forward, I would hope to see that those in the community that were split between Outgames and the Gay Games will understand that we will be here for the long haul," Hadley added. "We already have been an organization for 41 years now. We have shown complete transparency within our bid process, site selection, board member elections, etc. I feel that this portrays the professionalism that is within the organization. I hope that this will be recognized and acknowledged by those that may have been 'loyal' to Outgames and will open their eyes to the commitment of the FGG moving forward."
Snowden said that the arguments over the competing organizations hurt the community "by casting doubt on LGBTQ events with participants who did not even realize there was a difference between the two organizations.
"I know some participants who lost faith and didn't participate or even attend Gay Games in Paris," he wrote. "On the other hand, it has presented a challenge for the FGG to successfully communicate this to former and future participants. It will also serve as a reminder for folks to know the history."
One of the biggest challenges facing previous Gay Games has been gender parity, with a large majority of participants being men. Hadley and Snowden were asked about that.
"Steps are already being taken informally by organizing women-specific events," Hadley wrote. "I think there's great opportunity to partner with women's sports organizations and trying to create unique experiences for women. I also feel that it's important for conversation to be created with women to find out why they have had limited participation or haven't been participating at all. Is it too cost prohibitive? Does it feel like there's more attention at the events toward men's social activities versus women's?
"Marketing is a huge component of that. There seems to be more dollars made available through sponsorship from men's bars and clubs then that of lesbian and transgender establishments," she added. "The Hong Kong host committee has already shown a very strong relationship with the women's/lesbian community so we hope that they can also share ideas of what has worked previous for them when organizing events. IGLFA has also seen limited participation at its women's tournaments over the years and I have started the IGLFA Women's, Transgender & Nonbinary Task Force. This group of people will be asked to identify any issues that they have while providing positive feedback to make change and support more participation."
Snowden said that he saw a lot of women participating in a handful of sporting events at the recent Sin City Classic in Las Vegas.
"The amount of gender parity was prevalent at the dodgeball event," he wrote. "I met with the organizer about this and look forward to a few more conversations about this. Visibility must be present and not forced or required to keep it organic. On the track, they added co-ed relays. We will plan to use social media to effectively attract more involvement."
Gay Games, unlike other major sports events such as the Olympics, are controlled by organizations run entirely by the athletes themselves. Hadley and Snowden were asked about the impact that has had on Gay Games.
"I think, for the most-part, having the athletes and artists themselves running the organization is a positive," wrote Hadley. "They're in closer contact with the overall 'feel' of the event. However, they are often limited with the appropriate amount of time because they are volunteers. Organizing an event takes an immense amount of work, energy, expertise, and time. It would be helpful to be able to afford to have a paid staff without it costing the organization a fortune."
Snowden wrote, "To me, Gay Games is a unique event on various levels. Gay Games has remained a success due to celebration and liberation from the inception in 1982. One of the biggest benefits would be nurturing the relations built through sport and culture, on and off the field during Gay Games and, as time has passed and communications evolved, we, as athletes, participants, supporters and organizers are able to pass information on in between the years of Gay Games to keep the event moving in the right direction — from standards books with vital information, to our positions on the board with the federation."
The next Gay Games are scheduled for Hong Kong. Hadley and Snowden talked about challenges and opportunities.
"Every host city in every country has its challenges," Hadley wrote. "Hong Kong is definitely a new part of the world for the FGG to hold an event. Challenges foreseen may include actually being able to get the message out about the Gay Games coming to Hong Kong due to perceived censorship via the internet/social media channels. We hope that the reach is wide and far."
Snowden cited communications and distance.
"Gay Games have successfully taken place in other countries. Concerns were expressed based on language when we traveled to Amsterdam in 1998, Cologne in 2010, and even Paris last year, but we persevered," he wrote. "In regard to the actual sports, some sports such as volleyball, basketball, bowling, and swimming cannot be lost in translation. We will need to address practices or customs potentially in Hong Kong to make sure we aren't losing the mission of why Gay Games started with a focus on 'participation, inclusion and personal best.'"
Triathlon union drops rainbow flag ban
Apparently, the International Triathlon Union has trouble understanding how this whole movement to be more inclusive in sports works.
The ITU had announced that its policy for 2019 would tell athletes to "avoid displaying any kind of demonstration of political, religious, sexual orientation or racial propaganda" — and threatened disqualification for offenders.
At first blush, it would appear such a policy would curtail fascist, racist, and homophobic-themed posters and banners: i.e., the kind of crap we encounter too often in our lives and don't want to have to deal with at sports events.
But athlete-activists noted the policy could be used to punish athletes who carry the rainbow flag and curtail the visibility of LGBT athletes, much as the anti-LGBT "propaganda" laws enacted by Russia leading up to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi did.
This week, the ITU said it was dropping the "sexual orientation" language.
Better suggestion: get rid of the rest of the language as well. Say, if you like, you are banning "displays supporting any kind of discrimination." Period.
Contact the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org.