What, you may ask, does sexual orientation have to do with the high jump? The answer is nothing, per se, but, if it is the high-jump event at the Gay Games, hosted by Cologne in early August, then it has everything to do with reaching new heights in acceptance, self-esteem and community. There are no qualifying standards to enter, and no tests: for athletic or artistic ability, nor for “gayness”. The Games are open to all comers, and exist so that participants can do the best that they can do and have a good time doing it.
The Games are not focused on winning or commercial gain; it is a good games when participants achieve a personal best and organisers break even financially.
The inaugural Gay Games were held in San Francisco in 1982 - a city where outlandish behavior comes with the territory. Its population is famously free-thinking, and, as anyone who has clung to the side of a cable car can attest, the city gives one hell of a ride. In the beginning, in 1982, the games were known as the Gay Olympics.
One of the original organisers, Tom Waddell, was a former Olympiad, representing the US in the decathlon in 1968. But the IOC sued the organisers for using the word "Olympics" in the title, and forced the name change.
Thirty-four athletic events are staged, as well as five cultural disciplines. In all, there are more than 12,000 participants, and up to 30,000 spectators attend the opening and closing ceremonies. The cultural events, though fewer in number, are equally important to the games.
Its "rainbow run", like the Olympics' torch relay, carries a rainbow flag through many of the games' participating cities. The cheerleading sees men and women with giant pompoms and short shorts. And the Band Festival includes well-regarded musicians, such as the 178-
piece Lesbian and Gay Band Association, who have played such illustrious events as Obama's inauguration.
In the sporting events, participants represent their cities, not their countries. Events include bodybuilding, diving, ice hockey, swimming and dancesport. Stages and performance spaces are part and parcel of the Gay Village, which hosts a range of concerts and parties.
The location of the games changes with each event, and the games are held every four years. This year it will be held in Cologne, Germany, at the RheinEnergie Stadium. You can get involved as a participant (for a fee), a volunteer, an artist or a spectator; see the website for details.
The article 'The Gay Games VIII in Cologne, Germany' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.