The Federation of Gay Games (FGG) hosts its annual meetings in countries all over the world, and in 2012 the meeting was in Bulgaria. Les Johnson, vice president of membership for the FGG and a Team DC board member attended that meeting two years ago and took advantage of the situation to pursue a Team DC goal.
“At that time, Team DC was interested in forging a sister city relationship with a foreign city,” says Johnson. “Because of the Cold War mentality we were interested in partnering with Moscow, but really any city was an option. At that meeting in Bulgaria, we put feelers out to multiple cities hoping to find the one that was a good fit for us.”
Because of the LGBT propaganda laws that became international headlines at the end of 2013, Team DC once again began looking at the possibility of some kind of relationship with Moscow. In December of 2013, Konstantin Yablotskiy, co-chair of the Russian LGBT Sport Federation was in Washington D.C. speaking about LGBT rights. The Team DC Christmas Party became a fundraiser to support the LGBT sporting event, the Open Games, which were to be held in Russia between the Sochi Olympics and the Sochi Paralympics. Team DC raised $2,000 that night, which was contributed to the Open Games.
It then became Team DC’s goal to sponsor two Russian athletes to compete in the 2014 Cleveland/Akron Gay Games. The FGG maintains a scholarship program that awards athletes who are unable to fund their travel to compete at the Gay Games. For Team DC to raise the $4,000 needed to sponsor two Russian athletes, it partnered with Pride House International, Human Rights Campaign and the Gay and Lesbian International Sports Association to host a virtual Pride House, which was held on the night of the opening ceremonies for the Sochi Olympics at HRC headquarters.
“The virtual Pride House was a success and we were able to raise the funds needed to sponsor two Russian athletes,” says Johnson. “The FGG has guidelines for their scholarship awards, which are based on need and barriers, but because we were contributing the money we were able to designate the funds for one male Russian and one female Russian.”
The FGG scholarships are funded from a variety of sources such as foundations and individual contributions. Three hundred forty athletes from around the world, including 175 Russians, applied for scholarships to the 2014 Gay Games. Last week in Cleveland/Akron, recipients of the awards from 13 countries competed at their first Gay Games.
“To determine the recipients we use a model that awards points in specific categories,” says Paul Oostenbrug, co-chair of the FGG scholarship committee. “We target underrepresented countries and award points for young, old, medical conditions and to those experiencing homophobia. The results are put into a human development index to determine the recipients.”
The scholarship committee granted awards to 60 athletes and the countries represented were Croatia, Russia, South Africa, Macedonia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, China, Kazakhstan, Argentina, Brazil, Slovenia, Philippines and Chile.
Twenty-one athletes from Russia received the FGG scholarships, including the two funded by Team DC. They requested that the Blade not use their last names. Margarita competed in badminton and Slava competed in volleyball. At the reception for all the scholarship winners on the day of the Gay Games opening ceremonies, there were some language barriers but plenty of smiles from everyone.