Even the best of festivals have their dark undersides and technical difficulties.
Yes, even the Outgames.
Take Viger Square, for example. It was where medals were given out and where people could take a break and recharge. But before turning it over to the Outgames, city hall removed homeless people and street workers from the square. They were kicked out of their “home” in order to make room for the tents, stages and revellers from around the world.
The forced eviction drew criticism by local groups including the Réseau d’aide aux personnes seules et itinérantes de Montréal (RAPSIM), an organization that offers help for single and homeless people and Stella, Canada’s largest hooker centre. They predicted more police harassment and ticketing would occur as part of the force’s “social clean-up” for the games.
Spectators, and no doubt athletes, too had had a hard time finding individual events. The Outgames website only offered a handful of scheduled events, including square dancing. Sometimes, it seemed the only way to find out what was happening was to show up at a venue.
It’s tough for journalists to get the word out when they cannot get near the action. Outgames media officials didn’t want photographers to be among the athletes, at the opening ceremonies, so they were kept away from their turf at first. Except Radio-Canada. Eventually, a compromise was reached and other journalists and photographer were allowed in after 8pm, after Radio-Canada and the big papers had their fill. Gay media seemed to be given the lowest priority of access.
But one journalist was not so lucky. Le Point and Gay Globe TV Montreal journalist Roger-Luc Chayer was refused media access to the ceremony. Media Outgames officials found out an article where Chayer exposed the criminal past of a former member of an honourary committee of the games. After being kicked out of the ceremony, Chayer sent out a press release to media outlets explaining the situation from his perspective.
Did the emphasis on mainstream media backfire? There were virtually no stories about the Outgames on English language TV, radio or in newspapers — except those putting a negative spin on the booing of a Harper cabinet minister during the opening ceremonies. The CBC seemed particularly ignorant of the massive festival in Montreal, even though its French-language sister was a media sponsor with special access privileges.
An observer has to wonder whether Outgames organizers were trying to avoid “non-mainstream” images from being distributed. No photographers were allowed at the leather party, for example. Wholesome looking athletes, okay. Leather lovers, not for publication.
Did the Outgames lose audience members because of competition from Divers/Cité, Montreal’s annual gay festival, which was on at the same time? Certainly, the gay festival had the more attractive location for their main stage — Parc Emilie-Gamelin, near the gay village. Outgames rest area Viger Square, located further south, had noticeably fewer pedestrians heading there.
Were the acts at the opening and closing ceremonies sufficiently well known? The opening ceremonies attracted 40,000 in the stands, larger than the 30,000 attracted to the Chicago Gay Games. But the stadium was half-filled. Sure, Debora Cox and KD Lang are recognizable to English audiences and Diane Dufresne and Sylvie Desgroseillers to Quebecois. Where was Celine Dion?
The closing ceremonies attracted even fewer people. Even Liza Minelli could not bring them in.
Still, despite the hitches, most people interviewed by Capital Xtra experienced the games as one of the highlights of their lives. Montreal has set the bar high for future cities hosting the World Outgames.