August 28th, 2015
On this day in history, the first Gay Games opened in San Francisco. They were founded and fought for by Dr. Tom Waddell, who challenged the “be a jock or be a queer” lie that existed: he had been a gay Olympian competitor in track and field. He wanted to call the Gay Games the Gay Olympics, but that’s where the fighting came in- he was sued by the US Olympic Committee for the use of the word Olympics. Waddell saw beyond the athletics to portray the Games as a social movement to bring together community, promote inclusivity and fight homophobic stigma.
Elsewhere in 1982, NBC reported on a “rare cancer” (Kaposi’s Sarcoma) striking in the US and hitting gay men hard. That year the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) first opened its doors. Gay Related Immune Deficiency (GRID) was renamed Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and in 1983 scientists identified the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that caused it. AIDS Vancouver was established in 1983 and other organizations took shape as HIV struck different communities and needs emerged.
In 1990, Vancouver became the first place outside of the US to host the Gay Games (August 4-11), three years after founder Tom Waddell died of AIDS. That year Vancouver rescheduled Pride celebrations to coincide with the Games, rather than at the end of June when it’s recognized to mark the anniversary of Stonewall. We’ve never looked back and Vancouver’s Pride events and parade still rock the BC Day long weekend.
The Gay Games are held every four years and the Gay Games Federation recognizes the impact of HIV on the participating communities:
The Gay Games were founded by a person with AIDS, at a time when the epidemic of AIDS was beginning to take its deadly toll on the LGBT community. The FGG believes that sport and physical activity, as well as participation in cultural activities and involvement in one’s community, are important components for the health, well-being, and dignity of persons with HIV/AIDS.
The games incorporate education on transmission, prevention, inclusion of all people and fighting stigma that goes along with HIV-related fear. We can be proud of Vancouver’s part in this legacy.