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    A Gold Medal for LGBT Athletics & Equality

    goldBy Jamie Leno Zimron

    The Gay Games IX torch is about to be lit in Cleveland! Early August is exactly six months since the Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia, which gained worldwide notoriety over the host country’s oppression of gay people and new homophobic laws endangering both LGBT residents and visitors. What greater contrast and achievement could there be than this fabulous, fun-filled, Olympic-style gathering of over 10,000 gay athletes and straight allies, competing and celebrating sport together with pride?

    2014 has already shaped up as a watershed year in the march towards full human rights for our community. Marriage equality is now the law in 19 states, District of Columbia, 17 countries and counting. College football star Michael Sam has made history by coming out and then becoming the first known gay player to be drafted by an NFL team. The word “Sochi” is emblazoned into international consciousness, not as the glorious showcase of Russia that President Vladimir Putin spent over $50 billion on, but as a lightning rod for worldwide protest and activism against draconian LGBT oppression. More gay Olympians came out, and more straight athletes declared their support, than in any other Olympiad. Even our President, Barack Obama, refused to go to Sochi as a solidarity gesture, while sending a delegation of past American LGBT Olympians in his stead.

    gold2When former Olympic decathlete Dr. Tom Waddell founded the Gay Games over 30 years ago in San Francisco, I think he envisioned what this event has grown into: an entire movement that:

    1) provides vast new opportunities for LGBT people to play, compete and enjoy athletic activity;

    2) promotes equality, diversity and inclusion for everyone on all the playing fields of life;

    3) challenges sexist and heterosexist sports ‘norms,’ changes stereotypes, and opens up every avenue of play and work for our community.

    With all the gains we’re enjoying, some people ask whether the Gay Games are still relevant. To me that’s like asking whether we still need Pride Parades. The answer is a resounding yes! We particularly need such events so long as it’s legal anywhere to jail and even execute people for being gay, to exclude or unfairly to fire LGBT people from jobs, for gay-related bullying and suicides to go on, for locker room epithets of “faggot,” “sissy” and “dyke” to be thrown around daily and be tolerated, and for gay athletes to live in emotional and economic jeopardy if they dare let their sexuality be known. We are all too familiar with the litany. And we know that we are propelling powerful positive changes in society and our own personal lives through such far-reaching events as Pride and the Gay Games.

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    So what will be different in Cleveland, as for prior Gay Games, than in Sochi or Olympic Committee venues?

    1) Almost all your playing partners and fellow competitors are gay! In Cleveland, it’s safe to be an out-athlete and you’re even in the majority. The Gay Games are open to all, and about 10% of the athletes who will participate are straight.

    2) When you win and want to deliriously hug and kiss your teammates and family members, you can! And you can do so freely with no worries or weirdness, same or opposite sex. If you lose and want to sadly hug or cry, you can, freely, with same or opposite sex significant others.

    3) You can walk around town/the “Olympic village” holding hands or arm-in-arm with your same-sex partner or spouse.

    4) You can come and compete, without needing to be an elite athlete who’s been preparing since you were a kid. The Gay Games is a sporting event open to everyone, with various age and ability-level categories, designed for all people to play and enjoy the fun and rewards of sports competition.

    5) Diversity, Inclusion, Participation, Personal Best, Gender Equality are expressly part of the mission, values and operational policies of the Gay Games. You can feel good being part of an event and a cause that congruently promote inclusive participation, personal potential, and progressive social change.

    6) Sexual equality is gaining ground in the Olympics, with women’s ski jumping and boxing added just this year. But, for now, only at the Gay Games can you cheer men’s synchronized swimming and same-sex figure skating, body building and dance pairs!

    7) The Federation of Gay Games recognizes the need for equal access for male and female athletes, for minority athletes, and that gender identity may be fluid. The FGG is pioneering beyond traditional notions and divisions of male/female sports, and is providing new opportunities and role models for lesbian, gay, trans and genderqueer athletes.

    As such, there is a women’s division for every sport where there is a men’s division; in many sports, there is a mixed-genders division; scholarship and sponsorship funds are available; and every effort is made to consciously address and eliminate sexism, heterosexism, racism and transphobia from the Gay Games athletic experience.

    8) In Cleveland, LGBT athletes will be strengthening and celebrating their own inner sense of athleticism, while raising the profile for all gay people in the sporting world. The Gay Games help make it more and more possible to be athletic and out, and can increasingly serve as a breeding ground (innuendo intended!) for successful elite and professional out-athletes.

    9) In addition to all the athletic competitions, you can rock out to the Indigo Girls, attend an LGBT Health Symposium, and hear great Gay Gospel music. A mere partial list of related cultural events at the Games includes a Virginia Woolf play and Mel Brooks musical, Love Makes A Family photo exhibit, ComedySportz, Choral Extravaganza, DanceSport Gala, House of Blues, and a Rock ’n Roll tour!

    Unfortunately, I won’t be there when the torch is lit next week in Cleveland, but I’d love to be able to join in this super-fun and fantastic social-change sports event in 2018. As this year’s Gay Games begin, I’ll be en route to work with our Aikido Youth Peace Dojo in Hawassa, Ethiopia.

    I’ve been blessed to win a few golf gold medals at the Maccabiah Games in Israel (international Jewish Olympics). I know how empowering athletic activity can be, and what a wonderful vehicle it is to cultivate human connection, capability, character, and simple health and joy. Sport is universal, and it’s amazing to have the Gay Games standing alongside the Olympics, the Maccabiah, Pan-American Games, Arab Games, World Croatian Games, Special Olympics, World Transplant Games, Deaflympics, Commonwealth Games, and many other such gatherings.

    So good luck and thanks to all our out-of-the-box out-of-the-closet sisters and brothers playing their hearts out in Cleveland. It’s getting better for us all!

    “Bay Times” columnist Jamie Leno Zimron is an LPGA Pro, Aikido 5th Degree Black Belt, and Corporate Speaker-Trainer. Contact her at jamiesensei@thekiaiway.com