2006 Notebook - July 17

News, Notes and Photos from Chicago

(This story was published in 2006).

A Grand Opening: It’s 2 a.m., Sunday morning in hot, sweaty Chicago. I just returned home from the Gay Games VII Opening Ceremonies. And, if you missed this – you missed something quite special.

I’m not just talking about the streaker who graced us with his less than stellar naked body as he dodged around the Lesbian and Gay Marching Band of America. Although Margaret Cho did have a fabulous comeback line: “I was so glad I got to see the streaker up close. Sitting by the field, balls whizzing by my head, oh yes, this is the Gay Games.”

I’m talking about the amazing mood, the sense of community that was created on this muggy Chicago evening. From the entrance of the athletes at the beginning of the evening to the lighting of the flame at the end - this was a night to remember.

The Gay Games VII Opening Ceremony took place at Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears. It was strange to see such a normally hyper straight place transformed into a queer epicenter. “Hanging with Bears at Soldier Field has a whole new meaning,” quipped Cho.

The event began with the athletes marching on the field, grouped by country and state.

As a mountain biker on Team Chicago, I waited outside while the other athletes marched in first. Finally, we were given the signal and it was our turn to enter the stadium.

I’m normally jaded, but I was amazed by the experience. The lights were bright, flashbulbs were popping, and it felt incredible running onto the field with thousands of queer athletes. We were all wearing different colored shirts, holding up different colored glow sticks. The lights dimmed as we waved our glow sticks to form a kind of rainbow. Moments like that can give you the chills…

The rather long evening was broken up into four acts: Exclusion, Oppression, _Expression and Ignition. Erasure’s Andy Bell, in fabulous purple pants and gold shoes, got people up out of their seats and dancing. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley received thundering applause when he proclaimed that, “gay men and women are welcome in Chicago.” Megan Mullally charmed the crowd and looked just as cute in person as on TV.

There was a very moving video tribute to Gay Games founder Tom Waddell, as we were reminded to respect and celebrate our community’s diversity. I was impressed at ex-NFL Esera Tuaolo’s voice as he belted out “Take the Flame”, the official anthem of the Gay Games. It was such a brave thing for him to come out, given the homophobic NFL.

James Hormel, a former U.S. ambassador, spoke for too long, so I got up and roamed around the hallways. Bought a pretzel. Bought some nuts. Lost my friends, found my friends again. Then settled down for the bizarre Avenue Q puppet show

The evening ended with the AntiGravity troupe and the Ubaka Hill Drumsong Institute. You had all kinds of activity, from dancers doing amazing acrobatic feats to more than 50 women in body paint jamming out on hand drums. The evening culminated with a sweet multicolored fireworks proclaiming gayness all over Chicago.

And let the games begin. - Ronit Bezalel

Hoop dreams: The London Cruisers weren’t given too much of a chance in a men’s basketball A bracket opener against the LA Freeze. But there they were, staying basket for basket to the Freeze, before finally running out of steam in the second half and losing by five. I happened to come across the halftime speech by the Cruiser’s player-coach (a Spanish guy whose name I did not get) and it would have given Pat Riley or Phil Jackson a run for their money. He was passionate and praise-worthy, but also very detailed-oriented. “They’re probably thinking, ‘Who the fuck are those guys?’ ” he said about the Freeze. I’m always a sucker for a good underdog story, even if they come up short. – Jim Buzinski

From No Carbs to All Carbs: Manny Urquiza, a bodybuilder from New York City, lifted up his shirt to show his ripped six-pack. That’s what not eating carbs for four months will do for you. Asked what he will eat after his competition Tuesday, Urquiza said, “One of those Chicago-style pizzas … and I am going to let the grease drip into my mouth.” And to drink? A lot of beer. – JB

Teams in the wrong division. In sports where there are more than one division, placing a team in the right division is key. If a team gets placed in too high of a division, they'll get killed; if they are in too low of a division, they can sweep through to the gold.

The Memphis Express basketball team got a lesson in that on Sunday. While they should have been in the Recreational Division, they placed themselves in the Competitive Division. Their opening game was a 76-24 throttling at the hands of the New York Warriors, one of the tournament favorites. When you just looked at the two teams, it was apparent that Memphis was in the wrong division as they were dwarfed by the Warriors, and will be in most of their games.

We've gotten wind from a volleyball player that that sport is having to deal with teams putting themselves in lower divisions in hopes of winning a gold medal instead of competing with teams at their own level. This practice is a disgrace, and it's not special to volleyball or the Gay Games: It happens in many sports and tournaments with more than one division. We're being told by a participant that volleyball organizers are looking into moving misplaced teams into higher divisions, though we have not gotten confirmation of that from organizers. – Cyd Zeigler jr.

Roughing it in basketball. While it's hot outside, it's even hotter inside; and the basketball players can attest to that. The air conditioning there seemed to be shut off, as all of the doors to the gym (all eight of them or so) were opening and giant fans were brought in. Even with the fans, the air was pretty stagnant and sticky. - CZ

Cuter boiz in b'ball. One basketball player who's a regular at basketball tournaments, and whose team medalled in Sydney, said "the basketball boys here are 10 times cuter than in Sydney." - CZ

Single-elimination ought to go. It was a downer to talk with a friend of mine, Mike Sipin, who is participating in tennis. Or, should I say, participated in tennis. After spending God knows how many hundreds or thousands of dollars to compete in the Gay Games, he lost his first tennis match and is done for the week. In the future, organizers really ought to guarantee at least three tennis matches. Having some kind of round-robin play that leads into the quarter- or semi-finals really is the way to go. With the incredible expense so many incur to get here, they should get a little more competition out of their trip than a 90-minute match. - CZ

Typical media coverage? CLTV, the Chicago Tribune's local TV station, did a three-part segment Sunday night about the first full day of competition. They highlighted three stories in the three-minute segment: Religious protestors and cheerleading took up about 2:50 of those three minutes, and they discussed bowling for about 10 seconds. I'm curious to see how the media covers this event. CLTV decided today that, despite serious competition taking place in basketball, track & field, swimming, powerlifting, tennis, ice hockey and others, they should focus on protestors, cheerleading and 10 seconds of bowling. I'm afraid the mainstream media will cover this event like they cover gay pride, focusing on the fringe, "gayer" aspects of it. We'll see. - CZ

Seeing old friends. New York's Al Torres has been playing in gay basketball tournaments since 1993. He came to these Gay Games as a spectator, nursing a knee injury. For him, and other spectators like him, these Games are about seeing old faces and celebrating the athletes who are participating. "It's great to see old friends from around the country and the world, who I get to see once every four years," Al said. – CZ

Injury rears its ugly head. Unfortunately, injury is a very real issue for the athletes here. With the heat and strain of top-level competition, everyone puts themselves at risk for injury. One of our teammates pulled his groin in practice Sunday and is done for the tournament before the competition has even begun. And that was just 15 minutes after his personal trainer had stretched him. To all of those athletes dealing with injuries, our hearts go out to you! - CZ

Rowing Comes Off. Chicago media reported there were small antigay protests at Crytal Lake, about 50 miles outside the city, which held the rowing competition. The town was embroiled in controversy when it first denied a permit for the rowing competition, then reversed itself. I also saw only about half-a-dozen protesters outside the Opening Ceremonies staging area on Saturday night, spouting the usual lame objections to our "sinful lifestyle." Athletes had been standing around for a few hours in the heat and many seemed to find the protesters more of a diversion than a real annoyance. At one point, a crowd made up a sing-song chant they hurled back at the protesters: "It's OK to be gay, it's OK to be a homo." -JB

Lingering thoughts and comments about the Opening Ceremonies. In the last 24 hours, I've only spoken to one person who enjoyed the opening ceremonies on Saturday. Here is a smattering of some of the comments I was given today or found on our discussion board:

"I've been persecuted as a gay man since I came out. I just didn't want to hear about it yet again," one athlete said about the tone of the ceremonies that sometimes seemed negative.

"I guess we made the mistake of assuming the opening would be entertaining and uplifting. Well, we couldn't take anymore after the barrage of random thoughts and cuss words from the angry woman, and then the theme of "oppression” took to the field," One spectator posted on Outsports.

"Did they get the Academy Awards producers to do that show?" One athlete asked. Athletes were told to get to the holding area by 5 p.m.; the ceremonies did not end until midnight. - CZ

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