3 min

Vancouver dynamo heads new sports body

Thomas Dolan brings new approach to gay sports

Credit: Wendy D

Thomas Dolan has a plan: he’s making room for us. At VanCity, Dolan championed the credit union’s hugely successful gay and lesbian-targeted marketing campaign. Now Dolan has trained his eye on a global initiative to secure a place in the sporting world for queer folk.

That initiative is spurred by a recent collapse in negotiations about the future of Rendez-Vous Montreal 2006. The Federation of Gay Games (the governing body that produces the quadrennial Gay Games) and the Montreal 2006 organization were unable to reach an agreement on budget and liability issues. Montreal organizers broke off contract negotiations in November, after spending over $500,000 on a bid to host the next Gay Games.

Gay Games VII was then placed in the unprecedented situation of reopening its bidding process. Montreal 2006 maintains that the FGG wanted to impose ridiculous financial controls without assuming any financial responsibilities.

As Xtra West went to press, the federation’s board chose Chicago over Los Angeles to host the 2006 Gay Games.

Meanwhile, in another part of the woods, a new assembly called GLISA (the Gay & Lesbian International Sports Association) took its first official breath on Feb 23. That’s where Dolan comes in.

A Montreal think tank assembled in January to discuss the shape the initiative would take. Experts from Europe, Australia, Canada and the US were present, with representatives from multiple tiers of the sporting community, including Thomas Dolan and Pat Hogan from Vancouver. The brain child of this think tank-GLISA-has the daunting task of fashioning anew the future of queer sport.

Dolan says GLISA is only at an organizational stage now. While it was born out of the controversy surrounding Montreal 2006, there is no formal connection with Montreal’s Games. For now, “it’s a wonderful jumping off point” enthuses Dolan who is one of the three founding board members of the organization. “We’re very, very excited.”

He’s also optimistic that GLISA will create a formal bridge to Montreal 2006, allowing those games to serve as a strong template for future international events.

Dolan likens GLISA to a resource centre or an equipment room. A space where queer sports teams and organizations will be able to create their own vision. Its impact will be accessible on a truly universal scale, from high school football teams to the locker rooms of the Olympics.

And while the Federation of Gay Games has put virtually all its emphasis on sport, GLISA will aim to create large sporting festivals that include a strong component of culture and pride.

GLISA is shaping up to be the kind of grassroots initiative that knows how to wear a suit when it needs to. The association’s formation was quick and decisive-yet powerfully inclusive at the same time. Along the way, GLISA has canvassed the gay sporting community for input on a constant basis. The association is taking on the patterns of a forum, a workshop where one has never existed before.

It’s a project that straight organizations are wising up to. The International Olympics Committee has now begun to acknowledge trans participation, for example, and is tackling the predictable problem: where do you place a trans participant in a sporting event that uses gender binaries as a tool for fairness? “Who are they going to talk to?” asks Dolan. The answer, where there was no answer before, is GLISA.

Any queer kid who has stepped inside a locker room knows that there’s more to sports than the sport itself. There is a social context, a series of vibrant cultures and communities within each sport that cannot be ignored.

GLISA seeks to safeguard that humanitarian connection.

Dolan recalls his own experiences as a football player in high school. Because of locker-room machismo, or any number of bigoted influences that sometimes colour high school gym classes, Dolan would dread the very thing he loved. “What if they discover I’m a fag?” he’d ask himself. “They accept me as a valuable athlete, but I’m not even allowed to be myself.”

It’s a systemic problem in sport. And it’s one that calls for systemic change. A change that extends far beyond high school-homophobia is engrained in the myth of sport. Queer youth often develop an excommunication from the sporting world, thanks to those myths. “If I can eliminate that situation for another kid,” says Dolan, “I’m gonna take that chance.”

GLISA may be a fledgling enterprise, but Dolan is no newcomer. He’s a board member of Team Vancouver and was president for seven years. He has raised over $1 million for local HIV organizations. He was instrumental in the marketing of PrideVision TV. All in all, Dolan has made a habit of creating something new, something needed. He’s worked with the Gay Men’s Health Survey, Ride for a Reason, and gay ski week.

His organization, marketing and public relations skills are well recognized in the Vancouver gay community.

This link between culture and sport, between community and institution, is a vitally important one. It effects our queer kids. And it certainly effects a group of our unsung queer heroes.

If Thomas Dolan gets his way, GLISA’s vision of “an inclusive, globally recognized, integrated gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered association that celebrates, supports and promotes our culture through sport” will be a major player in the foreseeable future.

What would that look like? We’re about to find out.