Think the Gay Softball World Series is big? It has nothing on Gay Games 9
The number of athletes in town for the Gay Softball World Series is undeniably impressive, but it’s not the largest LGBT sporting event held so far this year — not even close.
The ninth Gay Games, which took place last month in Cleveland, boasted three times as many competitors. And it was an awesome sight, and walk down memory lane, for Dallas’ Christian Minnicks, whose history with the Gay Games dates back 20 years.
Minnicks was a young man working as a dancer at Walt Disney World in Florida that summer when he first heard about the event, which was holding its fourth incarnation in New York City.
“I said, ‘We have to go!’” he recalls of the last-minute decision to pile into the car and drive up for the chance of competing. It was a magical experience for Minnicks, who placed in the hurdles, winning a silver medal.
So when a friend called him up earlier this year to see if he was available to serve as head judge in the cheerleading competition of the Cleveland games, Minnicks jumped at the chance to relive old glories, and help create some for newer athletes.
“There were 11,000 athletes there — that’s more than the last Olympics,” Minnicks says, noting that an assemblage of queer athletes was, officially, the largest sporting event in the world.
One reason, of course, is that unlike the Olympics — or even the World Series — there are no qualifying rounds. Anyone can compete in any event, subdivided by age bracket.
“No one had to prequalify. You just needed the drive to compete,” Minnicks says.
And that drive was apparent to him and everyone in attendance. Minnicks says the entire week was one epiphany after another.
“This games was a lot different [than 1994] because of the coming-of-age in the gay and lesbian community,” he says. “It was all about inclusion, not exclusion. When I competed, it just had a minimal [number of divisions]. But in Cleveland it had a transgender category, a lesbian category, gay men, broken down by ages, etc. And the attendance blew [my games] out of the water. The support they had was great. People were talking about gay marriage,” something Minnicks could barely have imagined 20 years ago.
The inclusionary quality was nowhere more evident that with the 99-year-old lesbian who was the only competitor in her age range. “She ran the 400m alone and they gave her a medal. The will power it took! I bawled.”
There were other eye-opening experiences as well.
“I went over to the figure skating, where I figured it would be all gay men. But it was female-female pairs, male-female pairs, male couples. I saw a lesbian couple who had been skating together for years. They won the gold and they did it together. I just loved that. There was an ability level for everyone: darts, bowling… .”
But it wasn’t all squishy sentimentality substituting for athletic prowess. Minnicks was equally impressed by the high caliber of competition he witnessed at many of the events. The volleyballers, for instance, took over a space the size of an airplane hangar and “had 14 games going on simultaneously for three days nonstop,” Minnicks says.
And the track and field games were competitive as well.
“There was a gentleman from Central Europe who had competed on the national level for his national team, and he blew everyone out of the water. He set the Gay Games record — it was like watching an Olympian. That’s what I wanted to see — someone at that level. He even took his partner up onstage with him.”
The sports with the biggest jocks, Minnicks surmises, were in the rough team sports —rugby, softball, volleyball — as well as track and field and cycling. “They were the hardcore people. They were talking [constantly] about sports — Jason Collins, how rugby will now be an Olympic sport again. A lot said we they were going to try out for the U.S. rugby team!” (One of the nail-biter events of the competition was the rugby finals between the U.S. — this year’s host nation — and France — Paris will host the 2018 games. France won.)
Even more impressive than what happened on the field, though, was what went on behind the scenes.
“The Athletes’ Village was my favorite part,” Minnicks says. “Going around and meeting and talking to all the athlete from all the countries. I stayed [two doors down] from the Chinese contingent, which was only five athletes. They actually lived in Hong Kong now because they said they can’t live in [mainland] China. It was just really incredible, to talk with people about their countries and why they are here and what they plan to do. Two-thirds had never been to the United States before.” (Minnicks’ only disappointment was that the Texas contingent was very small, but he was amazed by the turnout among some countries.)
The dazzling, sold-out opening ceremonies included not just performances from Lance Bass, the Pointer Sisters and cast members from Glee, but also Ohio politicians embracing the gay athletes to a recorded message from President Obama who cheered on Team USA. And that got Minnicks thinking about the future.
“Ohio is a swing state,” Minnicks observes about its political color. “So that’s one reason the Republican National Convention is gonna be in Cleveland [in 2016]. They’ll be in the same place as all these gay athletes less than two years earlier. That will be very interesting to see.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 26, 2014.