About half of the Georgians attending the Gay Games are members of the Atlanta Rainbow Trout. That includes the 11-member water polo team and about six other swimmers, according to Sean Fitzgerald, a Trout member and secretary of the Federation of Gay Games, the international organization that puts on the quadrennial competition and cultural showcase.
Gay Games VIII
“This is really a worldwide event,” Fitzgerald says. “For the Rainbow Trout, we go to straight competitions all the time, and we are welcomed at those events and allowed to participate. In a lot of places in the world [gay athletes] don’t get that opportunity.”
Some 9,500 athletes from about 70 countries will converge on Cologne for the Gay Games, Fitzgerald says. The Atlantans attending Gay Games VIII, all men, are competing in water polo, swimming, bodybuilding, tennis, running, bowling and DanceSport, he says.
Openly gay Olympic diving gold medalist Matthew Mitcham will attend, though not compete, while pop singer Taylor Dayne will perform “Facing a Miracle,” the official song for Gay Games VIII, at the July 31 opening ceremony.
Once the Games are underway, athletes participate in a variety of skill levels for 35 sports, ranging from more traditional offerings like diving, swimming, basketball, softball and track and field, to contests in events like Bridge and Chess.
And unlike the Olympics, which separate sports based on season, the Gay Games include field hockey and ice hockey, inline speed skating and figure skating.
Also unlike the Olympics, the Gay Games aren’t limited just to elite athletes. The motto for the Federation of Gay Games is “Participation, Inclusion, Personal Best,” while the motto for the Cologne Games is “Be part of it!” Both reflect the focus on friendly competition and reaching individual goals.
“You don’t have to be good, you don’t have to be fast, you just have to want to do it,” Fitzgerald says. “You can come have fun and stand alongside Olympic athletes who are now out and at the Games.”
Fitzgerald brought home a silver medal from the Chicago Gay Games for the freestyle 200-meter relay. In Cologne, he will compete in swimming events and water polo.
“This is actually my fifth Gay Games; my first being in New York in 1994,” he says. “I can’t imagine missing one just because of the excitement of the Games, the fun, the camaraderie — it’s just a great event to be a part of. It’s all friendly rivalries.”
Georgia bodybuilders Brian Dohner and David Sigler will experience those friendly rivalries first hand — the two are competing as a team in men’s pairs bodybuilding, and likely against each other in the individual bodybuilding event in the over 40 division.
“It’s funny because he has been a friend of mine for years,” Dohner says. “It will be a nice rivalry and we are both very easygoing people.”
At the Gay Games, “people are definitely a lot friendlier and more supportive of each other,” Dohner says. “Even when you are on stage you are cheering for each other, and that is what makes it really fun.”
Dohner competed in his first Gay Games in Sydney, Australia, in 2002, where he participated in swimming and bodybuilding without earning medals in either, although he placed fourth in bodybuilding. But Dohner enjoyed the experience so much that he returned to compete in the 2006 Gay Games in Chicago, where he brought home the gold medal in the men’s bodybuilding over 40 division.
“My motivation is to stay healthy and to set goals for myself. I like to see continued improvements in my body,” says Dohner, who notes that training for a competition motivates him more than simply going to the gym just for a workout. “I like meeting others from around the world that are still competing in the various sporting activities.”
‘Just do your best’
Atlanta resident Larry Lucas has competed in five Gay Games. This year, he is competing in three sports: tennis (men’s singles, over 50 division), ballroom dancing (where he and dance partner John Richardson will perform Latin romance dances), and volleyball (division B).
Because the rest of his volleyball team is unable to make the trip to Germany, Lucas is following in the community spirit of the Gay Games and competing as a substitute player on any team that needs an extra person.
“That’s what the Games are all about,” he says.
Lucas and other local Gay Games athletes encouraged Georgians who can’t make the trip to Germany to consider competing in the next Gay Games, slated for 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio, regardless of their skill levels.
“The Games are not about winning and losing,” Lucas explains. “Where in the Olympics you have to qualify and qualify and qualify and fight to be there, the Gay Games are different. You just do your best.”
The Games also give athletes in pairs events like DanceSport the opportunity to participate with a same-sex partner, something that wouldn’t be possible in mainstream competitions.
“It’s an outlet for the dance that I love,” says Lucas, who also takes a month off each year to teach ballroom dancing on a cruise ship.
As importantly is the statement of inclusion the Games sends for LGBT people.
“That and marches on Washington are the two things that make you who you are supposed to be,” Lucas says.
Top photo: • Clockwise from top: Atlanta resident Sean Fitzgerald, secretary of the Federation of Gay Games, is competing in water polo and swimming events. (Photo by ProjectQAtlanta.com) • Brian Dohner, from Vinings, hopes to bring home a repeat gold medal in men’s bodybuilding. (Photo by Tim Wilkerson) • Atlantan Larry Lucas (right), shown here with dance partner John Richardson at a recent talent show at St. Mark UMC, has competed in five Gay Games. This year, he will participate in DanceSport, tennis and volleyball. (Photo by Ryan Watkins)