A testament to the inclusiveness and diversity of the gay community, Dr. Tom Waddell’s vision of a global gay sporting event resulted in the first-ever Gay Games.
First held in 1982 in San Francisco, with nearly 1,350 athletes competing from 12 countries, the Gay Games have grown into one of the most popular sporting events in the world. Modeled after the Olympics, the seventh Gay Games, held in the summer of 2006 in Chicago, drew some 12,000 athletes and 140,000 spectators.
Athletics played a dominant role in Waddell’s life. He used sports to compensate for his growing sexual attraction to men. He excelled as a gymnast and football star at Springfield College, and immediately began training for the decathlon following his graduation in 1959.
It was his athletic talent which, even though he was drafted into the Army in 1966, allowed him to avoid serving in Vietnam and instead train for the 1968 Olympics, where he placed sixth out of 33 decathlon participants. But, following a knee injury in 1972, Waddell decided to shift his focus to medicine, his primary course of study.
His medical knowledge led him to work throughout the Middle East, including earning a role on the Saudi Arabian Olympic team in 1976 as team physician. After seven years, Waddell returned home to San Francisco and conceptualized a gay sporting event after participating in a gay bowling leagues.
He traveled across the country promoting the idea of the “Gay Olympics.” Despite a successful injunction by the United States Olympic Committee and a later Supreme Court ruling over use of the word “Olympic” that forced a last-minute name change, the event was a resounding success. After being diagnosed with AIDS in 1985, Waddell still won the javelin throw at Gay Games II in 1986. He died of AIDS in July 1987. But his memory will always animate the spirit of inclusiveness and diversity paramount to the Gay Games and to the community.
On July 4, 1965, Barbara Gittings picketed outside the steps of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, brandishing a sign which read: “Homosexuals should be judged as individuals.”
But her work as an activist goes far beyond that first protest.
During her more than 43 years in the civil rights movement, Gittings has made an impact on the medical, literary and media industries. She is a founding member of the New York chapter of the early lesbian group Daughters of Bilitis and a former editor of the DOB’s national magazine, The Ladder.
Her tenure at The Ladder led to a shift in values for the organization toward direct action, a concept which Gittings implemented in her struggle with the American Psychiatric Association.
Gittings joined Frank Kameny in the campaign against the APA’s classification of homosexuality as a mental illness, a battle which included a rogue exhibit at the 1971 convention and participation in several APA panels. The campaign’s goal was realized in 1973, when the Board of Trustees agreed to remove homosexuality from the list of disorders.
And in perhaps her most notable contribution as a pioneer, Gittings’ work with the American Library Association dramatically increased the availability and proliferation of LGBT-themed works for mass consumption. The Gay Bibliography began with 37 positive titles on gay topics, and now has hundreds of titles in numerous categories.
As a further step to increase LGBT visibility in literature, she also led the ALA’s Task Force on Gay Liberation to present the first Gay Book Award in 1975, which was adopted as an official award by the ALA in 1986. In 2001 the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation honored Gittings with the very first Barbara Gittings Award for activism. Along with her partner, fellow activist Kay Lahusen, she continues her community activities and is widely recognized for all her historic efforts.
A fiercely intelligent, often outspoken voice in the House of Representatives, Barney Frank has carved out an irreplaceable niche in Washington. His trademark fast-paced speech, humor and understanding have propelled him to the top of the Financial Services Committee, all while he has maintained a positive voice for LGBT individuals in national government.
Frank has served as representative of Massachusetts’ 4th District since 1981, with a consistent voting record on gay rights as well as the economic impact of equality. Prior to his election to Congress, he worked in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and as chief assistant to former Boston Mayor Kevin White.
A graduate of Harvard University in 1962 and Harvard Law School in 1977, Frank displays an intelligence that precedes his often fiery demeanor on the House floor. He was voted outstanding freshman congressman in a public television survey, and during his tenure he has become a leading voice of the Democratic Party, campaigning for low-income individuals, the elderly and persons facing discrimination, and against policies like the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” ban on open gay and lesbian servicemembers.
Though Frank did not come out publicly until 1987, he had supported gay rights since he took office six years earlier. He has been involved in one notable scandal regarding his sexuality in 1989, which involved Frank’s housekeeper-driver’s alleged running of a prostitution ring from within Frank’s home. Frank fired the driver when alerted to his behavior by neighbors, and he fully cooperated with an investigation by the House Ethics Committee, which supported his claims of ignorance regarding the matter.
Though the story was used as an election ploy in 1990 by Frank’s opponent, the incumbent congressman carried nearly two-thirds of the district, and has run unopposed since 1992.
In the years following the incident, Frank has continued to be a force in Congress through his wit, fearlessness and stature as well as his speaking style.
He encourages LGBT individuals to make a difference through government, and continues to make a difference in solving the problems which face our country today.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, October 27, 2006.