This Enhanced Games raised flag image could be seen as representing a “Stonewall moment,” says founder Aron D’Souza. |

A poster for the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights features a pink triangle and a slogan that still resonates with many activists today.

“Come Out… Come Out… Wherever You Are.”

Decades later, the phrase “coming out,” and LGBTQ language more widely, are being repurposed to attract athletes to a controversial new multisport event.

The Enhanced Games were announced in June 2023, accompanied by a tagline claiming they would be “a better version of the Olympic Games” in which those competing would not be required to undergo drug testing.

Originally planned for later this year, it has now been pushed back into 2025, with a location yet to be determined. The sports available are set to be track and field, swimming, weightlifting, gymnastics and combat sports.

Last Friday, former Olympic gold-medal-winning swimmer James Magnussen of Australia became the first major name to announce his intention to take part.

Now 32, he says he is prepared to “juice up to the gills” and would then break the 50 freestyle world record within six months.

Australia’s James Magnussen retired from competitive swimming in 2019. | Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images

Many will wince at Magnussen’s choice of words, but the event’s founder and president Aron D’Souza, a venture capitalist who studied law at Oxford and has a doctorate in legal philosophy, is positively drooling.

He says there is a $1 million prize waiting for the Australian should he break that record.

“I have no doubt now that James has done this publicly, there will be dozens, hundreds of athletes [ready to join],” D’Souza told Australian AP. “My phone is blowing up.”

D’Souza is desperate to attract athletes as he seeks investment for the Enhanced Games. One part of his strategy is to draw parallels with the LGBTQ rights movement by referring to it as an “inspiration.”

There is a page on the event’s website that offers advice to his target audience on how to go public, titled “How to Come Out as Enhanced.”

“It takes courage to be open about your body… Coming out can be a really positive experience and it can feel liberating to be authentic,” the guidance reads.

On another page, titled “Inclusive Language,” the experience of LGBTQ people has been analogized in an attempt to convey the so-called ethos of the Enhanced Games.

Following a list that claims “doping” and “performance-enhancing drugs” are examples of harmful language (the website suggests the use of the term “enhancements” instead), a sub-section headed “Acknowledgement of Inspiration” explains its approach.

“We thank the LGBTQIA+ Movement for their brave fight for inclusion and equal rights. We acknowledge that we have been inspired by the valiant efforts of this community,” it reads.

The sentiment has been part of D’Souza’s sales spiel for a while. An out gay man himself, he told City A.M. — a business publication based in London, where he lives — in July 2023 that the “journey” of enhanced athletes is “so analogous with the LGBT community.”

He added: “What changed for the LGBT community was pride — there was a flag to rally around and if you look at our website, it is intentional. What’s our first picture? A flag. Maybe this was our Stonewall moment.”

The picture in question on the Enhanced Games website is of a medal-wearing athlete holding aloft a flag bearing the event’s stylized “E+” logo.

If this image is supposed to be the metaphorical first brick thrown in the liberation of steroid-using athletes, it’s more like a deodorant advert than a call to action.

As for the bastardization of the phrase “coming out,” that has been noticeable from the beginning of the Enhanced Games story.

The event’s X account posted a video last summer purporting to show an enhanced male athlete who had broken Usain Bolt’s 100-meter world record and who would compete at the Games.

The voiceover in the video, which had to be reposted after the original version was taken down, quotes the sprinter as saying: “I need your help to come out. I need your help to stop hate.”

The fact that the athlete wouldn’t go public meant the video didn’t get much attention. If it had, many LGBTQ people would have seen instantly what was going on.

One user reacted as such to the original post, writing:

“Co-opting ‘coming out’ from the LGBTQ+ community, for whom it is a declaration of their identity as a member of a community that has been targeted for centuries for no reason other than not conforming, ESPECIALLY since doping is a choice and identity/sexuality isn’t, is gross.”

That well-executed takedown should have made D’Souza think again but he either didn’t see the post or chose to ignore it.

Earlier this month, he expanded on his vulgar analogy, telling Vice’s tech site Motherboard that being an enhanced athlete today is like being gay in the 1970s because it is “underground… and kind of fun”.

The comment makes the hard-fought progress won by the LGBTQ civil rights movement in the decade after the Stonewall riots sound like one long party, with no mention of the HIV/AIDS pandemic that brought the “fun” to a tragic halt for so many gay men.

A ‘dangerous’ Games

The Enhanced Games hasn’t received much scrutiny so far, but Magnussen’s sudden endorsement means that is now changing.

Former world champion swimmer Mark Foster, who knows all too well the struggle of coming out as gay, has told BBC Sport that the competition would soon “get very dangerous” if athletes chasing big financial rewards were prepared to take health risks.

Meanwhile, the money is coming in. As reported by LGBTQ Nation, one of the funders who has just been announced is billionaire Peter Thiel, who was a co-founder of PayPal and who was outed as gay.

As for their new scheme, the Games website lays it all on thick, saying that “the Enhanced Movement believes in… elevating humanity” and calls it a “community of committed athletes”.

But by brazenly appropriating the language of the LGBTQ community, these wealthy financiers are disrespecting the memory of those who went before.

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