3 min

Where’s the political love?

Taking a cue from Celebration '90

Copenhagen’s city council – including an anti-immigrant lesbian ex-pornstar – unanimously voted to stage the 2009 World Outgames. It also voted to fund the event to the tune of 23 million Danish kroner (almost $5 million).

In fact, the city co-produced the event.

“Basically the idea of hosting these events is that people come back,” said Klaus Bondam. “To be honest, it’s good business for the city; it’s good business that reinvests.”

Bondam was, at the time, one of two gay mayors of Copenhagen, known, as is Vancouver, for its homo hospitality.

Flashback Vancouver circa 1988. We didn’t have a gay mayor. We had Gordon Campbell.

In 1988, he is invited and shows up to a cocktail shindig at the Plaza of Nations. In one of those speeches that begins, “On behalf of…,” then-mayor Campbell welcomes gay athletes – a whole two years in advance – to Vancouver for the first Gay Games being organized outside of the US: Celebration ’90, as it is alternatively, and even now, glowingly recalled more than 20 years later.

“People would have fallen over,” says Richard Dopson, a chief Celebration ’90 organizer and spokesperson. “To have a mayor of a city coming and inviting us to Vancouver? That created huge international buzz,” a still-incredulous Dopson recalls. Especially in America, he adds, where a strong AIDS-inspired, anti-gay movement was in high gear.

“I knew from Tom that you had to have political support,” Dopson tells me. He is referring to late Gay Games creator Tom Waddell.

We are just over four months away from hosting the 2011 North America Outgames, and the political silence is deafening.

The funding support? Let’s just say it’s an exercise in dentistry, of the teeth-pulling variety.

Yes, the city has officially – and finally – approved a $100,000 Sport Hosting Grant (the Outgames received conditional approval for that amount more than a year ago).

As for the Games’ second chance at the Vancouver 125th Anniversary Grant, with its $650,000 stash? There’ll be no word till May.

Meanwhile, back at the province, there’s an ongoing game of bureaucratic babble.

Originally promised up to $400,000 by the province in October 2008, which hasn’t materialized, Outgames organizers are scrambling to find out if they qualify for funding at all.

Games chair John Boychuk says the province doesn’t feel the Outgames’ sport or cultural programming “fits with the requirements” of the 2010 Sports and Arts Legacy Fund because the event involves friendly, not accredited, sport.

But a Jan 20 Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development email advised Xtra that an Outgames funding request was received and is “now under consideration.” The province, it said, has “designated a portion of the Sport Legacy to support the hosting of large-scale sporting events by BC communities,” and the Outgames “would qualify as a large-scale sporting event.”

In January Boychuk told Xtra that as far as he knows the only portion of the Outgames eligible for support is its three-day human rights conference.

More recently, Boychuk was in Victoria lobbying ministry representatives for funds. His request was dubbed a “reasonable ask.”

They’ll be in touch.

Got Advil?

Right about now Boychuk and the Outgames could do with an intervention, say… from a 1988 model of Gordon Campbell and a lesbian ex-pornstar.

If at the end of the 1980s, when gays were bearing the brunt of AIDS and still struggling for civil rights battles in North America, Campbell could endorse Celebration ’90 and welcome queer athletes, then in the post-same-sex marriage era, there should be no problem leveraging support for the Outgames from our much more numerous queer and queer-friendly politicos.

We now have a mayor who said he’d stand up for gay people during the 2008 civic election campaign.

We have gay city councillors. We have a gay advisory committee. We have gay MLAs. We have gay MPs. We have well-established gay organizations.

And we have an Outgames that’s four months away, and counting…


Perhaps, we have too many resources; perhaps, we rally when we have less.

Dopson reminded me that the Gay Games were organized “pre-website, pre-email, pre-cellphone.”

Faxes were just becoming trendy, and communications were face to face, by phone and mail – snail mail, that is.

In the end, a board of seven and hundreds of volunteers convinced, and got others to convince, 7,000 athletes to participate in 27 sports and 1,500 artists to perform at a variety of cultural events at Celebration ’90.

We’d be well-advised to take a cue or three from history.