The Gay Games medals that lesbian attorney Andrea Reister keeps in her office at Covington & Burling on Pennsylvania Avenue — three golds and a silver for cycling — have had a somewhat unexpected effect.
Natural conversation starters, Reister says they’ve been a way to come out to clients without making a proclamation.
“People who know me very well know it’s just part of my persona,” she says. “They’ve become a very positive aspect of who I am. And it’s an easy way to get it out there without making it a big deal. They’re something everybody can relate to.”
Reister, 52, is gearing up for her third Gay Games. She competed in Sydney in 2002 and in Chicago in 2006 but is switching gears for this eighth installment of the Games, which kicks off next weekend in Cologne, Germany. She and her partner of nine years, Marty Ashley, will compete together in golf.
“I’d done pretty well in cycling so I thought maybe it was time to try a different sport,” Reister says. “And Marty has always competed in golf and I wanted to be able to spend time training and competing with her.”
Ashley, who has a Gay Games silver medal of her own in golf, was bitten by the competition bug after attending the 1998 Games in Amsterdam as a spectator. She then competed in Sydney and Chicago and says training for this year’s Games has been fun.
Ashley, a software manager, also works at Covington & Burling. The two train at 5:30 a.m. twice a week at Hains Point in D.C. before their workdays begin. Ashley says the Games provide an unrivaled experience.
“The appeal is first of all, all these queers together in one city,” she says. “Normally we’re the 10 percent but during the Gay Games it reverses and we’re the 90 percent and that’s really fun. … It’s just a very supportive and vibrant community.”
Modeled loosely after the Olympics, the Gay Games started in San Francisco in 1982. Athletes from all over the world compete. Most are LGBT but heterosexuals can enter too. Gold, silver and bronze medals are awarded in about 30 sports and athletes of all skill levels are welcome to compete.
The D.C. area, represented by Team D.C., a local umbrella organization of LGBT sports leagues, which has about 2,500 players on about 30 teams, will again have a strong representation with about 100 attending. That’s down sharply from the roughly 300 who attended the 2006 Chicago Games, a fact Team D.C. board member Kevin Majoros attributes to the distance and cost of flying to Germany.
Majoros, a Blade sports columnist who’ll turn 50 during the Games (which last through Aug. 8), will compete in swimming and in two jumping competitions. The Baltimore resident and Gay Games silver medalist says the Chicago Games were amazing.
“You have 12,000 gay athletes all marching around for 10 days,” he says. “It was the first time in my life I felt like we were all supposed to be the way we are. Not that I don’t feel normal right now, but I felt even more normal. It’s kind of hard to put into words. I felt part of something bigger than myself and I knew I wasn’t alone.”
Washington resident Scott Thompson, 47, competes in tennis and the triathlon. He first attended the 1990 Games in Vancouver and has attended several times since. He won a bronze medal at the 2006 Out Games in Montreal, a break-off event that emerged during a squabble among Gay Games organizers.
“The great thing about it is you have a lot of people coming together who are focused on sports,” Thompson says. “You can go to a circuit party, but let’s face it, that’s mostly about partying and sex. And that’s fine, but here’s a healthier group who are really involved in sports. All that kind of stuff just pales to the good-natured fun you have at the Gay Games. It’s always such a positive experience.”
Team D.C. president Brent Minor is having shoulder surgery and can’t go this year but says the Games provide a good mix of fun and competition. Because anyone can enter and most of the participants are gay, it’s infinitely easier to participate in the Gay Games than the Olympics. Many sports have events broken down into age and/or skill levels, making it easier to qualify for a medal. But that doesn’t mean the Games are a field day. Competition can be fierce — in swimming especially — and several world records have been broken at the Games.
Minor says Team D.C. athletes always come home with a bounty of medals representing the District and its region well.
“Our swim teams always garner a great deal of medals,” he says. “If some of them put all their medals on, they’d sink to the bottom of the pool. We also have body builders who do quite well. We have a volleyball team who won bronze last year in their division. It really demonstrates that we have an active gay and lesbian sports community here.”
This will be the first Gay Games for 38-year-old lesbian Claudia Gebert, who’s running in both the 10k and 5k races. It will give the Germany native a chance to visit her hometown of Nesskirch, which will require a three-hour train ride from Cologne.
She learned of the Games after she joined D.C. Front Runners, a local LGBT running outfit. She came here last year as a biomedical researcher.
“I have to go back anyway to get a Visa stamp and I’ll see my family too,” she says. “It should be fun.”