San Francisco was the birthplace of many famous people, and also very famous movements.
For context, in 1952, the California Supreme Court ruled that “gays have the right to assemble,” as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. With the new ruling, safe havens like gay bars as well as social and political groups began to form within the gay community of the Bay Area, known today as the Castro District. But, the gay movement didn't stop there.
Almost a decade later, Jose Sarria ran for San Francisco supervisor. What was special about Sarria’s run for public office was that he was a drag queen, making him the first openly gay candidate to do so. Another decade passed, and the Bay Area held its first Pride parade in 1972.
The reason for this history lesson isn’t just because history is cool. San Francisco has been the main leader in protecting the LGBTQ+ community, and in 1982, the Bay Area’s fight for equality was going to extend to the sporting world. Thus the creation of the Gay Games.
Just like the Olympics, the Gay Games is a sporting event that showcases the best of the best athletes from around the world and occurs every four years. The difference between the two Games? Sexual orientation.
Both the Olympics and the Gay Games are open to all who wish to compete, regardless of sexual orientation or gender, but there are still limitations for transgender athletes to compete in the Olympics. What the Gay Games provides is a sporting event free of exclusion, accepting all competitors as part of the LGBTQ+ community.
Allison Brager, a United States Army Neuroscientist, first heard about the Gay Games in 2016 when she was practicing with her track and field club. With an extensive background in sports, and still an athlete herself, Brager participated in the 2018 Paris Gay Games and returned home with some heavy pieces of medals.
“I actually did nine different events that year because the Games didn't have the heptathlon,” Brager said. “I did basically all the events of the heptathlon plus I was on the U.S. Women's 4x200-meter relay. I won eight gold medals and a silver in the long jump. Our relay team also won a gold medal.”
Brager explained that within the sporting world, there can be some underlying performance anxiety for LGBTQ+ athletes because, depending on the sport, they can feel like they don’t fit in, which could impact their performance, especially for athletes competing at high levels. The Gay Games removes that feeling for competitors who end up having their best performances.
“It’s nice to be in a community where it's so unbelievably supportive, and it's less about head-to-head competition and more about camaraderie. Even though we're competing against each other, there's this overwhelming camaraderie because most of us know how long it took to get there. To be in a place where you don't have that underlying [heteronormative] stigma hanging over your head, it helps you perform at your best.”
The 2022 Gay Games were set to commence in Hong Kong, but have been postponed to next year. Brager qualified for the Games but is unsure if she’ll be able to compete in Hong Kong, or if the military will even allow her to do so, if the location stays the same. Fortunately, there will be a backup location ready to go in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Even though competition is stalled at the moment, Brager continues to train and began pole vaulting again — she competed in pole vaulting at Brown University. While she, and the other athletes, await any updates regarding the game, Brager still marvels at the courage some athletes have to put everything out on the line, even those whose lives could be at stake.
“At the last Gay Games, there were over 3,000 athletes from 92 different countries, which is kind of incredible when you think about it,” Brager said. “There's a lot of countries out there, especially in the Middle East and Africa, that otherwise are very homophobic nations to the point that you could be jailed, or even executed for being gay. So the fact that these athletes went out of their way to represent their country and put everything else on the line is pretty incredible.”
Photo credits: Wikimedia Commons, Flickr, Allison Brager