Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Gay Games VII ends on a high note

Gay Games VII ends on a high note
By Louis Weisberg
Copyright by The Chicago Free Press

As many as 15,000 spectators joined 10,000 athletes at Wrigley Field July 22 to bring Gay Games VII to a rousing close and pass the flag to the deputy mayor of Cologne, Germany, which is scheduled to host Gay Games VIII in 2010.

After a weeklong event that was plagued with hot weather and organizational snafus, participating athletes said they still considered Gay Games VII a success, thanks to the warm welcome they received from Mayor Richard M. Daley, the people of Chicago and their fellow competitors. Many said they felt exhilarated and empowered by their involvement in Gay Games VII.

“The coolest thing is there were so many gay people around and everyone in the city was so friendly,” said golfer Lene Larsen from Philadelphia. “There was such a strong sense of community.”

“The (Games) showed you that you are not alone,” said Shari Hayden, who played in the women’s flag football competition as a member of the Chicago Headcases. “It’s a good feeling.”

For Josh Thompson, the best part of the Games was being in Chicago. “This showed the world that Chicago can host a world-class event,” said Thompson, who played with the San Diego Toros and took home a bronze medal in men’s flag football.

“It’s been a pretty amazing experience,” Thompson said. “It was hard but a lot of fun.”

Despite some initial problems with Wrigley Field’s sound system and an entertainment roster that included more obscure names than familiar ones, audience members said they preferred the celebratory mood of the closing ceremonies over the serious tone with which the Games began at Soldier Field July 15.

“The closing ceremonies are much better,” Thompson said. “This is upbeat and the music’s good.”

The musical highlight of the event was a two-song performance by Cyndi Lauper, who also appeared in April at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago’s 12th annual fundraising gala. Swathed in a flowing rainbow scarf and wearing a Statue of Liberty headdress, Lauper sang “True Colors” and “Shine” to a standing, cheering crowd. A violinist dressed as Abraham Lincoln accompanied her onstage.

Always a hit with the audience, the members of Chicago’s Righteously Outrageous Twirling Corp spun their batons to campy effect against the musical backdrop of Thelma Houston’s disco hit “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” Tony Award-winner Sharon McNight’s powerful rendition of “Stand by Your Man” brought enthusiastic applause, as did the DC Cowboys’ tongue-in-cheek country line-dancing to the song “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy.”

“This is peppier and quicker than the opening,” said Chicagoan Poonam Thaker, who played in the Games and also served as a volunteer. “The smaller venue makes it a lot more intimate.”

“I’m having an awesome time,” said Howard Steiermann, a Chicago native who lives in San Francisco. “People are more relaxed because the anticipation of the coming week is behind them.”

In contrast to the political slant of the opening ceremony, the Games’ final event focused on entertainment. The only somber moment was an impassioned plea by South African volleyball player Leigh-Ann Naidoo against the worldwide torture and murder of gays and lesbians.

A small handful of Christian fundamentalists protested in front of the stadium, holding signs warning of eternal damnation and yelling, “Repent.” Except for police on horseback standing watch over them, the protesters were mostly ignored.


Post a Comment

<< Home