November 3, 2017 at 12:43 pm EDT | by Marvin Bowser
Is D.C. too gay for the Gay Games?
Gay Games, Muriel Bowser, gay news, Washington Blade

Mayor Muriel Bowser led the D.C. Gay Games bid delegation to Paris last week. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

I won a silver medal in rowing in Gay Games IX in Cleveland in 2014.  It was my Olympic experience from the Opening Ceremony procession of thousands LGBT athletes from around the world with full fanfare, thumping music and glitter, to the tough competition on the Cuyahoga River, to walking proudly though the Festival Village with my partner at my side and my silver medal around my neck. I rowed with DC Strokes, one of 34 LGBT sports clubs in the Washington, D.C. region that have about 7,000 members combined. Under the umbrella of Team DC, a 501(c)3 that promotes LGBT sports in the area, the D.C. region historically sends one of the largest contingents to the compete in the Gay Games.

I started writing this piece while flying back to Dulles, on a beautiful United Airlines Boeing 787 after making the case to bring the 2022 Gay Games to D.C. to the Federation of Gay Games (FGG) in 5 days of activities in Paris (Oct 26 – 30). The FGG is the sanctioning body for the Gay Games. D.C. was one of three finalist cities. Representatives of the other two, Guadalajara and Hong Kong were also in Paris. D.C. previously competed for Gay Games IX, which was awarded to Cleveland. This was Guadalajara’s and Hong Kong’s first attempt. Paris will host Gay Games X in 2018. The FGG selected Hong Kong to host Gay Games XI in 2022 at a press conference on Oct. 30.

According to Brent Minor, “We left it all on the field.”

Minor, the Gay Games DC 2022 Chairman, asked me to co-chair the bid committee to bring Gay Games XI to D.C. with Blade publisher Lynne Brown and Clark Ray in 2016. I said, “yes” without hesitation. Minor, a veteran of six Gay Games, former FGG male Co-President and Chair of the DC Gay Games IX Bid, possesses the knowledge, institutional memory, and drive to ably lead D.C.’s second bid team. He pulled out all the stops.

The D.C. 2022 bid book details our plan, budgets, sponsors, venues, cultural events, lodging, transportation, security, etc., in 300 pages of glorious detail based on our experience with the Gay Games IX bid and years of experience hosting large-scale sporting events under the advice of people like Paul Tagliabue, former NFL commissioner, Gay Games DC 2022 Honorary Co-chair. The bid book was submitted on Nov. 30, 2016. It is fact-based, complete and shows our math.

Our bid book, packed with facts and figures, touches the head.  Our 2022 final presentation, Inspire, touches the heart. Inspire is a beautifully imagined and produced multimedia and live presentation that captivated the FGG delegates, bringing many to tears. Briana Scurry, two-time Olympic gold medalist was greeted with thunderous applause and cheers repeatedly as she revealed then wore two gold medals as she told her story as an elite out lesbian athlete. Mayor Bowser, who led D.C.’s delegation, was cheered as she made D.C.’s pledge of $2 million in person to support Gay Games XI if the FGG selected D.C. Council member Jack Evans and Finance Committee Chair and Council member Brandon Todd also made the trip to demonstrate the City Council’s support of the D.C. bid. There was more applause and audible gasps and cheers as each of our Honorary Co-Chairs, Billie Jean King, Eric Holder, former U.S. Attorney General and Paul Tagliabue voiced their endorsements and support for the bid via video. Tagliabue, who “knows a thing or two about selecting cities for major sports events,” closed his remarks by proudly acknowledging his gay son and son-in-law. Chris Mosier, the first trans athlete to qualify for Team USA, took the podium and told his story about his transition, competing in the Cleveland Gay Games and qualifying for Team USA as a trans man to a hushed room. Mosier is living evidence of the power and importance of the Gay Games movement in nurturing and uplifting LGBT people.

Brent Minor, Elliott Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination DC, and Ryan Bos, executive director of Capital Pride, expertly covered the DC Bid’s Experience, Affordability and Fun topics respectively, rounding out the 45-minute presentation. D.C. made its final presentation last, following Guadalajara and Hong Kong. Bid teams cannot attend the other presentations.   As Mayor Bowser concluded and asked for the FGG’s support for our bid, the room erupted with applause and cheers. A Honorary Life Member (HLM) stated that he’d seen every final presentation and the D.C. presentation is the best he had ever seen by far. We heard many such accolades  as the D.C. delegation left the auditorium on Saturday Oct. 28 and over the next two days. But something was missing. It was like nailing an audition or interview, being told enthusiastically, “you were great,” and realizing there is a “but” coming.

Indications that things were going sideways

All three delegations attended a joint and lengthy question-and-answer session on Sunday Oct. 29. Each delegation had to select two people to answer for their city. Mayor Bowser and Brent Minor provided thorough, concise answers that were responsive to the questions directed at D.C. Questions came only from the FGG delegates and were pre-written. A moderator selected the questions asked during the session. Hong Kong tended to pivot away from providing details on the Hong Kong games to talk to more about their aspirations for Asia. Guadalajara generally answered the questions with some gaps in detail and revealed their focus on Latin America.  Here are a couple of the questions and answers:

How would your city fund the games?

Guadalajara: Half would come from registration fees and the remainder from a business entity that to me sounded similar to a tourism-related business improvement district.

Hong Kong: Claimed to have $1 million in corporate funding and another $1 million “conditionally pledged,” but details were sketchy. From what we could glean, this $2 million was not mentioned in the Hong Kong presentation the previous day. In a separate question, a FGG delegate asked how “the private funding would work,” since Hong Kong has no government funding. The gist of the rambling reply was that Hong Kong will have very nice sponsorship packages.

Washington, D.C.: Minor: Our budget is strong and detailed in our bid book. We have the $2 million pledge from D.C. Fourteen major sponsors are on board now and have already contributed $200,000 to the bid (cash and in-kind). Each of the 34 LGBT sports clubs also contributed to the D.C. bid.

Bowser: Remember EMILY – Early Money is Like Yeast –  Early money from the city will enhance the committee’s ability to bring on more sponsors. EventsDC and the Sports and Entertainment Commission, which have independent income streams based on tourism revenue can also help. If D.C. is selected, the budget process starts in 2018. EventsDC and the Sports and Entertainment Commission can help cover interim budgets.

How does your city define diversity?

D.C.: Bowser: D.C. is a melting pot. Every color of the rainbow is represented. Diversity is central to our bid as you can see in our bid committee and presentation. Sports and culture break what divides us.

Guadalajara: Mexico is diverse. One hundred languages are spoken.

Hong Kong: Hong Kong is diverse. A melting pot. HK named the people supporting the HK bid that included people from Hong Kong, the U.S., Europe and former British colonies. No one from another Asian country was mentioned or present.

Describe your bid in 3 words.

Guadalajara: Color, Inspirational, Legacy

Hong Kong: Empowerment, Legacy, Light

Washington, D.C.: Participation, Inclusion, Personal Best

The big announcement

The winner was announced at a FGG press conference the focus of which was really Gay Games X which occurs in Paris in 2018. After what seemed to be an eternity, Bruno Julliard, First Deputy Mayor of Paris, announced Hong Kong the winner.

Mayor Bowser pulled the D.C. delegation to the side and expressed her thanks for everything the Gay Games D.C. 2022 team did to develop the bid and to represent D.C. on the world stage. Most of the D.C. delegation remained for the gala dinner in the sumptuous Paris City Hall; after all it was the sportsman-like thing to do. There was yet one more surprise that evening, however. A couple, part of the Hong Kong delegation, was called to the stage where they announced a €10,000 pledge to the Paris Gay Games to support the 2018 scholarship program.

So what happened?

FGG delegates vote via secret ballot so it is not known who votes for which city but more delegates voted for Hong Kong. An anti-U.S. sentiment caused in large part by the current resident in the White House and his travel bans exists within the FGG. There is also a very clear pro-Asia sentiment. Some FGG delegates want to use the games to “open Asia” which is a very laudable and ambitious goal. There are certainly millions LGBT people in Asia who don’t have the freedoms and protections that we have as residents of gay-friendly Washington, D.C. and as citizens of the United States. It took decades of fighting to earn the LGBT protections we have. We are still fighting to protect them. The White House is trying to ban trans airmen, soldiers and sailors from the military as its initial assault on LGBT rights

Will the FGG be effective in bringing change to Asia with the 2022 games? Who in Asia knows about the Gay Games? The Hong Kong bid team effectively used social media to support its bid. I asked one of the members from Hong Kong how they were going to use social media in China and other Asian nations where terms like “gay” and “LGBT” are censored. She mentioned virtual private networks or VPNs, which are used by people with the money, knowledge and access. The Hong Kong team cannot reach the masses using VPNs. FGG delegates are concerned about the American White House but will the Chinese government open its arms to the Gay Games?

I believe the FGG was touched by the D.C. bid. I believe that the FGG knows that D.C. would host an amazing Gay Games. But that didn’t matter. A majority of voting delegates aspire to take the games to Asia. So the answer to the question, “Is D.C. is too gay to host the gay games” is, Yes. What about your city?


Marvin Bowser is a lifestyle blogger and regular Blade contributor. He served as a co-chair of the D.C. Gay Games 2022 bid committee. Follow him on Instagram @FirstBroDC.

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