Invading the comfort zone

  • by Roger Brigham
  • Wednesday June 17, 2009
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Attorney Mary Dunlap, left, kisses Gay Games founder Dr.<br>Tom Waddell on the steps of the Supreme Court after oral argument in the Gay<br>Olympics case, March 1987. Photo: Maureen Mason, courtesy of Aquarius Media.
Attorney Mary Dunlap, left, kisses Gay Games founder Dr.
Tom Waddell on the steps of the Supreme Court after oral argument in the Gay
Olympics case, March 1987. Photo: Maureen Mason, courtesy of Aquarius Media.

Three sports-themed documentaries in the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival drive one point home with crystalline clarity: to gain acceptance from others, you first have to have the strength to get comfortable with who you are, then have the strength to invade other people's comfort zones so they can react, learn, and grow.

Pop Star on Ice (11 a.m., Saturday, June 27, Castro Theatre) is a brash and uninhibited look into life on and off the ice for figure skater extraordinaire Johnny Weir. If you're into glitter and fashion shoots and irrepressible twinkdom, you'll love this film. But the real grit in the 85-minute film is the battle between fabulousness and focus confronting Weir as he soars onto the global stage. Nothing like crash-landing in front of thousands of fans at the nationals with a world of expectations on your shoulders to make you realize the importance of training and commitment.

Clearly, Weir's insistence on in-your-face flamboyance in antics and attire with nary a statement about his sexuality has a fingernail-on-blackboard effect on many of the old guard in competitive figure skating circles and were more than enough to provoke the forked-tongue of TV commentator Mark Lund (see Jock Talk, Jan. 18, 2007). But Weir's career shows that living fabulously can be the best revenge. The film, which does a wonderful job of showing the evolution in the sport's judging, takes us through Weir's return to front stage at the 2008 nationals and his follow-up bronze at the World Championships and should give the figure skating junkie good insight as Weir attempts to rebound from an unhealthy performance at this year's nationals as he tries for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

A more serious look at the battle for acceptance is given in a twin-bill this Sunday, June 21, 3:30 p.m. at the Castro. Training Rules is Dee Mosbacher and Fawn Yacker's 57-minute essay on Jennifer Harris's successful legal battle against former women's basketball coach Rene Portland's discriminatory practices at Penn State (see Jock Talk, Feb. 8, 2007). Portland's lawsuit was landmark stuff, showing that a coach's perception of an athlete's sexuality – how she looks, how she dresses, how she acts – can damage a program and careers if it is not challenged. In doing so, it shows us how shallow Title IX's victories for women's sports will be if the spirit of equality intended by the legislation is not embraced and practiced by those running the programs.

The hidden gem for connoisseurs of San Francisco LGBT sports history is Jonathan Joiner and Robert H. Martin's Claiming the Title . In 1982, local organizers were blocked just days before the launch of the first Gay Olympic Games from using the word "Olympic" by the U.S. Olympic Committee. What followed was a four-year legal battle between the Gay Games and the USOC that culminated in a Supreme Court decision. The appearance of attorney Mary Dunlap in front of the justices in 1986 – just weeks after the court's devastating decision for gay privacy rights in Bowers v. Hardwick – marked the first time an openly gay person argued before the Supreme Court. Dunlap died in 2003.

I had the opportunity to screen the film with a few veterans of those first Gay Games. Rose Mary Mitchell was an athlete at the first Gay Games and became an active supporter, putting together the archive of Gay Games materials for the San Francisco Public Library. Derek Liechty officiated in the first Gay Games and was in the courtroom at Dunlap's invitation when the arguments were heard in 1986.

Many community leaders felt taking the case to the Supreme Court was a bad idea, no matter how solid the legal arguments were. As we watched the film, we thought of the arguments made against taking the same-sex marriage case to the federal courts, where arguments seeking a preliminary injunction against Prop 8 will be heard next month by District Court Judge Vaughn Walker.

"He was the attorney in the USOC's original suit against the Gay Games," said Martin.

Martin said the 30-minute film was developed as a teaser to try to attract funding for a bigger project: a look at 50 years of gay rights cases. A serendipitous set of circumstances led to the filmmakers focusing on the Games.

"It's like a window into the past of our community," he said. "I'm 39 years old. I was a teenager when the first Gay Games happened, and when I came to San Francisco in the 1990s the community was already so different. One of the things that we found was how integrated our community felt in 1982. There was this camaraderie. There was definitely something special about the first Gay Games. Even four years later you can sense from the footage something was different."

As inspirational as the film is, there is a sense of incompleteness to it. It ends with the 5-4 defeat but says nothing about how the USOC and the Gay Games have since then worked cooperatively, as when they convinced the federal government to waive HIV travel restrictions for the 1994 Gay Games in New York and the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta – precursor to those restrictions being lifted altogether in 2008.

The film does show the challenge gay rights advocates faced in the 1980s trying to convince an all white mainstream judiciary to see the legitimacy of gay rights.

"You can see the court was asking themselves this question in private," Martin said. "It's interesting that 20 years later we're still trying to handle these questions."

Sports briefs

Castro spring basketball title game today

Forget the NBA. The real championship basketball game will be at Eureka Valley Recreation Center this evening (Thursday, June 18) when the Castro Basketball League spring season comes to a close. Playoffs began Monday; the championship game at 8:15 p.m. tonight will be preceded by a 7 p.m. consolation game and announcement of season awards, including Most Valuable Player, Hustle Award, League Hunk, the Tony Jasinski Award for best sportsmanship, and the "What! He's Straight?" Award.

Rugby 101

Men and women wanting to enter the world of rugby will get a prime chance this Saturday, June 20, when the SF Fog Rugby club holds a Rugby 101 clinic on Treasure Island. The clinic, which will run 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the Fog pitch near the intersection of Ninth Street and Avenue D and be followed by beer and barbecue, will cover rugby laws, tossing and catching, painless tackling with less effort, forming rucks and mauls, line outs, scrums, and rugby songs. Information on how to register and what to bring is available at The Fog, which won the 2009 Magnitude 15s tournament last month in Seattle, hosts its Fogfest on Treasure Island Saturday, June 27.

For more information about the league, visit

Spikes travel to IGLFA championship

Thirty-five players on two squads are representing San Francisco Spikes in this year's International Gay and Lesbian Football Association World Championship in Washington, D.C. Matches kicked off on Monday and will conclude this weekend. In addition to the United States, countries represented in the tournament include Great Britain, Ireland, Belgium, Germany, Canada, Australia, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Italy, and Argentina. Tournament progress may be followed on Information about the Spikes is available at