The Gay Games were about competition—among cities, states, countries, and even with the 1st World Outgames opening in Montreal on July 29—but at the Closing Ceremony, it was all about friendship. The way the teams entered Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, contrasted with the regimented manner they marched onto Soldier Field nearly a week before. At the closing, the teams mingled, without uniforms, walking with new friends they had made during the week.
Thousands of athletes walked in from two opposite ends of the stadium, intersecting under the Gay Games torch, near the pitcher’s mound. Then, under the glaring Chicago sun, to uplifting music played by the gay and lesbian bands in the stadium, they split apart into two lines, and made their way into the bleachers, waving to the crowd that filled a quarter of the seats. From high above in the press box, where sportscasters perch to watch the fouls, homeruns and fly balls, it was a beautiful sight.
Though the closing featured Chicago’s Mayor Richard Daley, New Yorkers were not forgotten. Ari Gold sang with Kristen W. and Queens native Cyndi Lauper, imitating the Statue of Liberty, carried a torch while wearing a golden crown and rainbow dress and sang “True Colors” accompanied by a drag king dressed as Abraham Lincoln playing a fiddle.
Christian West, captain of Team New York, thought it a fitting end to a week some thought would never happen. Though he left Chicago early, he said, “They pulled it off. They did what they had to do, and they did it. It was a very hot week and the athletes should be proud of what they did.”
While some people were critical of this year’s games, West said diplomatically, “Each game is unique and special in its own way.”
This was his fourth Gay Games. Chicago was the seventh games. West said, “Every city has their own flavor, and is unique. I am looking forward to Cologne,” which will host the 8th Gay Games in 2010. In the meantime, 400 Team New Yorkers will be heading to the Outgames in Montreal. About 742 New Yorkers, including some from upstate, were in Chicago.
While he did not have a medal count for the team, West noted the events where New Yorkers won—ice-skating, where Bradley Erickson performed with his mother and softball, where Rochester’s women’s team won gold. Team New York member Alan Anderson, a bowler, knows why New York had a great showing. Speaking at the team party thrown by Gym Bar’s Rick Schmutzler, he said, on “numbers alone, we were impressive, but New York is a competitive, Type A town and we really pushed a true showing with medals.”
New Yorkers also took the lead at the favorite event, Pink Flamingo, a hard to define competition that combines swimming, choreography, and comedy. Even in a Gay Games that was decidedly less popular than others, the event sold out, making it one of the only times every seat in the house was taken. The West Hollywood Team is usually the star at Pink Flamingo, as they are with all swimming events by virtue of hot bodies and camera-friendliness, but here the city that never sleeps trumped the city of angels. Using the theme of “10 people we’d like underwater permanently,” Team New York swam away with the Best Choreography and Best Overall awards. Team members impersonated Ann Coulter, George Bush, Paris Hilton and others who were ceremonially drowned, adding a touch of politics to the comedy.
The many events were held in Chicago’s famous Loop, to what we might call the outer boroughs if Chicago had them, to the far flung suburbs of Oak Park and Evanston, using Northwestern University’s athletic facilities. This meant a long commute to events or a quick elevator ride in the host hotel, the Chicago Hilton. From cabs to filled-to-capacity- hotels to the crowded sidewalks of North Halstead, better known to gays and lesbians as Boystown, the impact of the Gay Games on historically butch Chicago was clear. Gay athletes and their supporters were a visible though not overwhelming presence in town.
Many Chicagoans were happy to have the games in town. Emily and Ashleigh, two straight Chicago women living in Boystown dropped by a Team New York party. They likened themselves to Chicago’s version of “Sex and the City” and sought out gay men for advice about their lives. Emily said, “I see the Gay Games being here and I love it. I feel at home.”
Ashleigh said, “I work with gay men who I love to death. They help me be the best single woman I can be.”
Whether it’s going for the gold, making new friends around the world, or making sure that single Chicago women are well taken care of, it seems the 7th Gay Games were a success.