Doctor Tom Waddell, a decathlon competitor at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, conceived this athletic event as an opportunity for gay people to demonstrate to the world that their skills and competitive spirits in sports parallel those of the rest of humanity and to show how “normal” gays tend to be in comparison to the stereotypes. He wanted to replace the obsession to win at all costs with the positive joys of simple participation. These games would require no minimum ability for participation. Winning would be defined as achieving one’s personal best. Competition would not stress nationalism or age and men and women would compete on an equal basis. Tom Waddell felt Nationalism was a disunifying concept, so athletes were encouraged to represent their city rather than their country.
A group called San Francisco Arts and Athletics (SFAA) was formed. Two years were spent in the planning of this event which was to be called GAY OLYMPIC GAMES. Opening ceremonies were planned for August 28, 1982 and TINA TURNER agreed to perform. Three weeks before the opening, the United States Olympic Committee obtained an injunction in federal court prohibiting the use of the word “Olympic”. This despite the fact that the USOC had ignored the use of the ancient word by Special Olympics, Police Olympics, Nude Olympics, Dog Olympics, and many others.
This created chaos and near collapse as the organizing committee scrambled to delete every use of the sacred word in advertising, merchandising, every activity, and every printed page. Somehow, the committee completed the Herculean task and the Opening Ceremonies of the GAY GAMES were held at Kezar Stadium (once the home of the 49er’s football team, and now no longer in existence) in San Francisco on schedule. The Master of Ceremonies was Armistead Maupin, author of “Tales of the City”.
SFAA appealed the Federal Court’s injunction and a legal battle raged for two years. It was finally settled by the United States Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision in favor of the USOC in March, 1987. The still-vindictive USOC arranged to have legal fees of $92,000 levied against Tom Waddell’s residence, despite the fact he was fighting for his life against AIDS.
It was never the intention of the SFAA to make the Gay Games entirely a San Francisco event. They were kept here a second time in order to refine them and clearly establish their philosophy. Having four years to plan the event, a much more diverse and entertaining set of events was scheduled by the SFAA. “Procession of the Arts”, a series of cultural events complementing Gay Games II, was added. This included concerts, exhibits, plays, conferences, films, dances, cabarets, and an old-fashioned Circus Parade! The events promoting the talents and creativity of the Lesbian/Gay community, spanned the entire month of August.
In 1989 the SFAA disbanded and in its place the Federation of Gay Games was born just 5 months before the Vancouver Games. The Federation is the governing organization of the Gay Games and is charged with promoting and protecting the ideals of the games. Unlike the Olympics which are exclusive, the Gay Games include competitors with every level of ability from record setter to recreational.
The Gay Games grew immensely in both size and stature in the four short years since San Francisco. Vancouver, a very beautiful and friendly city, rose to the occasion. The people of Vancouver generously opened their city and their hearts and made an excellent impression on the visitors to Gay Games. The event was a tremendous opportunity for gays and lesbians to be seen in the public eye in a wholesome atmosphere that emphasizes fun and diversity, both cultural and athletic. It was in Vancouver that the Gay Games became Olympian in magnitude and rose to the stature of a world-class event!
Adapted from ‘A Brief History of the Gay Games’