(Editor’s note: The following column was filed from the 2018 Paris Gay Games exclusively for Uken Report.)

PARIS, FRANCE — Paris Gay Games on its face seems like a frivolous adventure in a city filled with so much culture and history — but the Gay Games are so much more.

Originally named by it’s founder Dr. Tom Waddell as the Gay Olympics in 1982 they were immediately sued by the International Olympic Committee and prevented from using “Olympics” in the name.  Thus the “Gay Games.”

Gay Games in Paris Nothing Short of OlympicsBy what I have observed both in what I saw represented in those first games in San Francisco and now in Paris is the personification of the true meaning of the Olympics from the quality of the athletes to the pride in country.

When we watch the International Olympics we see in the opening ceremonies each delegation of athletes supported by the country that they represent carrying their flag and  wearing the uniform specially made for the occasion. Pride in country is evident (although in some cases one might assume that it is required).  Quite differently in these opening ceremonies there were no grand uniforms just groups of people some wearing shirts sporting the name of the locality or country they were representing. Filled with enthusiasm and pride they were participating in an event where in some cases might not be permitted in the locality that they were representing.

Arriving at the gathering place for all of the countries and teams that were participating in the opening ceremonies it was immediately evident that the United States’ representation was huge with California having the largest contingent followed by New York and then several other states.

What was also immediately evident was that unlike the Olympics the participants and teams there were expressing their pride in their community, in their sport and in their abilities rather than being there as a representative of their city/state/country.  Not to say that hometown pride was nonexistent as cheers broke out frequently naming the geographical location they represented.

What I found most curious was that there was not one USA! USA! cheer but rather cheering for the individual localities.  That continued into group cheers as each country and locality was called to line up for the opening parade into the stadium.

San Francisco with over 100 participants opened the ceremonies as they always do paying homage to the birthplace of the games. As our contingent of almost 40 waited in our orange Palm Springs Shirts sporting the “follow us to Palm Springs” logo and carrying a huge Palm Springs banner we were approached by so many from other countries relating stories of their visits to our city or their desire to do so.  It was a great feeling to be in an international gathering in an international city and be recognized as a destination of high regard.

But if I had to pick the most memorable moment of the opening ceremonies it was the feeling of community.  There was no “we are better — we are bigger” it was the outward expression of we are all in this together.  Something that seems to have gotten so lost in our current world.

It is hard to describe but maybe best exhibited by the large team from Spain placed in the alphabetical listing of Espania followed by the team of one person from Estonia.  The team from Spain after completing their cheer and seeing that there would be no cheer for Estonia broke out into repeatedly robust “go go Estonia” as the parade began.

That’s my community and why there is so much more to this than just the Gay Games.

Photos courtesy of Paris 2018 – Gay Games 10