Tuesday, 9 July 2013

On Track To The Outgames - Part 8

The Outgames moves back Down Under in this latest instalment of the games’ history. Hosting the 2nd Asia Pacific Outgames in March 2011 was the city of Wellington, New Zealand.

Two natural disasters overshadowed the start of the games. First was an earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, 18 days before the games, killing 185 people. It disrupted plans by teams from around Christchurch on the south island to attend the Outgames 200 miles away on the north island. A tsunami hit Japan on the day before the games began and there were worries for the small contingent of athletes, delegates and visitors from Japan who were expected in Wellington.

Undaunted by these events around 1,300 athletes attended. Although it was billed as the Asia Pacific Outgames a large number of athletes and delegates with no Pacific coastline took part – including Armenia, Germany, India and the UK. This is not unusual for an lgbt event like this. The EuroGames often have teams from Australia and the USA.

The Wellington Outgames was made up of the usual 3 components – sport, conference and culture festival. And as before the whole event was timed around an established local lgbt festival. In Wellington this was Out in the Square.

Out in the Square began in 1986 as a fund-raising event for local lgbt organisations during the final months before homosexuality was decriminalised in New Zealand. The event grew in size and popularity over the years to include other charities and performers. The fair moved to Wellington’s civil square in 2008 and became linked with the city’s Pride. The Outgames gave an opportunity for bigger and more varied artistic and cultural events to take place – art, drama, comedy, dance, guided tours and street performers. There was a special performance of the show “Queen of the Whole Universe”, won by Miss Russia Tzarina Cheyshose Titzelot (aka Vaughn Meneses, who also spoke at the conference on health issues).

The opening ceremony held earlier that evening welcomed athletes the 26 nations and was officially opened by the Governor General of New Zealand, Sir Anand Satyanand. He pointed out New Zealand’s pioneering position as being the first country to allow votes for women (for some reason he omitted to mention Georgina Beyer as being the world’s openly trans MP).

There were 16 sports on offer. Among the world records broken was the 800m women’s freestyle relay swimming event for the 35-39 year age group. Because the swim meet was officially sanctioned by its international governing body (as several other sports were) all results and records was official even outside lgbt sport. Kristen Cameron, a Wellington resident and straight athlete, knocked a massive 3½ seconds off the previous world record to win gold in a time of 9 minutes and 9.12 seconds.

Swimming often produces the top individual medal winner at multi-sport events, but in Wellington this record went to a dancer. Clinton Brooks won 9 gold, and 4 silver medals in the dancesport competition.

The Asia Pacific region has a long tradition of gender variance not seen in the West. As a result there was a massive attendance in the sport and conference from over 40 people who identified as transgender or traditional Pacific gender. One delegate at the conference commented that if every recognised gender and sexuality in the Pacific region were added in the lgbt label it would be lgbtqimvpfaff.

The lgbt conference took place towards the end of the Outgames and ran for 3 days. It centred on issues associated with the region with several Asia Pacific lgbt politicians speaking at various sessions, as well as several sessions on personal testimonies and histories and advice on writing lgbt histories. There was a session given by Sunil Babu Pant, the first openly gay politician in Nepal and several others featuring Nepali activists. There were also speakers from Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands (who were a major conference sponsor and gave travel scholarships to some delegates). The Dutch Ambassador to New Zealand, Arie van der Wiel, spoke at the conference as well as compete in the games (gold medal in the men’s 5 km run for the 60+ age group).

But perhaps just as significant was a meeting of around 100 people who gathered for a convention for trans and intersex Asian Pacific Islanders. It was the first such gathering ever to take place.

The 2nd Asia Pacific Outgames in Wellington ended “on a high” as athletes, delegates and visitors gathered for the closing ceremony. As is now customary at these ceremonies the Outgames flags (sometimes called the Melbourne flag because it was first raised at the previous Asia Pacific Outgames in 2008) was handed over to the hosts of the next Outgames – the 2nd North America Outgames in Vancouver to be held just 4 months later. And they will be the subject of my next “On Track to the Outgames” post in 15 days time.

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