The result of three years of cross-continental and inter-cultural work, the World Out Games opened this week in Copenhagen, integrating sports, culture and human rights, and as GLISA‘s Julia Appelgate explained: “building a world community of out activists, athletes and cultural workers.”
The Games launched with more than 5,500 athletes, cultural producers and activists taking part in one of the largest street parties the city has seen and, as Lord Mayor of Copenhagen, Ritt Bjerregaard described in her welcome: “making Copenhagen Queer.”
Indeed, local residents and tourists have been encouraged to participate throughout the week via not only the sporting events, but also at cultural and arts events held at venues dispersed throughout the city.
Though same sex marriage remains illegal in this predominantly Lutheran state of five million people, Copenhagen’s claim to queer fame lays in registering the world’s first same sex domestic partnership, via “the Registered Partner Act,” at its city hall in 1989. In fact one of the week’s many guest speaker highlights was an address by the surviving member of that first couple: Axel Axgil.
Now 95, Axgil was also the founder of the International Homosexual World Organization in 1948, a first for gay advocacy. Addressing the Games’ crowd, Axgil explained that after the euphoria over the launch of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “I had to face up to the fact that not all of us were covered in the UN declaration.” His words were a reminder of the more than 70 countries where homosexuality still meets imprisonment or death — a reality made physically present in the opening parade of nations by volunteers who carried the signs of countries not represented in the athletic components.
By contrast, Canada, as noted frequently over the opening days, has made more progress than most in its recognition of LGBT rights, and it showed at the Games: Canada was strongly represented in the parade of nations, with one of the largest contingents of athletes at the Games, and was also very well represented at the conference with individual delegates, politicians (federal MPs Bill Siksay and Libby Davies were in attendance) and most notable were labour: CUPE, HEU, BCGEU, PSAC, CUPW, CUFW, EFTO and the CLC were all out in force.
One the major events at the Games has been the three-day human rights conference, co-chaired by Canadian LGBT rights trailblazer, Svend Robinson. Over 750 delegates from 80 countries, including 250 fully sponsored delegates from the global South, registered for the conference and have been participating in some 110 workshops and plenary sessions.
This year’s Games also mark the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, and one of the keynote speakers at the human rights conference was Virginia Apuzzo (who, among other accomplishments, was the highest ranking out gay person ever to serve at the White House). She reminded delegates to be vigilant: that hard fought for rights will be lost if activists become complacent: “it is true we have made extraordinary advances since 1969 — but let us never forget that many challenges remain. Just as India has decriminalized homosexuality, Burundi has criminalized homosexuals.” And from the audience, we were reminded that Canada’s much acclaimed and hard fought for rights are currently under threat by Conservative government.
The call for “the LGBTI community” to stand together was however met with caution. Though the language of “community” is often used in regards LGBTI, as filmmaker Parvez Sharma noted, “there is no meta community”: the LGBTI community is made up a diversity of experiences, interests and power relations, which can be very divisive and exclusionary. The World Out Games, in fact itself emerged out of split with the Gay Games. Three main lines of tension quickly arose at the conference, concerning the inclusion of transgendered and transsexuals in the conference content and conference organization; First world imperialism; and Israel/ Palestine (specifically in the choice to include Tel Aviv in the “Out Cities” portion of the Games). In fact there was an “alternative” Out Games conference held before the Games, and a “radical conference” is planned for after…
Stay tuned to rabble for more video and audio from the Games.