Different Games, Familiar Hurdles: Organizers of This Summer's Two Competitions for Gay Athletes Say They've Learned Their Lessons So the Events Will Be Profitable Now and Viable for the Future

Article excerpt

Hector L. Torres, who will be competing in the triathlon at Chicago's Gay Games this summer, has jumped over his share of hurdles to get to where he is today. He was a severely overweight teenager with a high-pitched voice who had trouble fitting in after his family moved from his native New Jersey to Puerto Rico. His traditional Latino family had a difficult time accepting his sexual orientation--his father even punched him once. His mother survived a near-fatal car accident and has since required her son's assistive care.

Later, he himself was involved in a car accident that left him unconscious for three days. His father, blaming a "midlife crisis," walked out on the family. His first long-term boyfriend was bulimic and bipolar, and their breakup left Torres emotionally spent.

Today, life is very different for the 28-year-old living in Orlando, Fla. A few years back, Torres shed 100 pounds and is now a 200-pound, 6-foot-1 muscular powerhouse. He began running and working out at a local gym and now teaches Pilates, muscle-toning, and cycling classes in addition to working as a promotions director at WNUE FM, Orlando's top-rated Hispanic radio station. He's also made peace with his family and himself.

Each step of the way, Torres says, he was inspired by his mother's recovery process. "After bathing her one day I thought to myself, I don't know how she does it," Torres says. "But it also made me think about myself. Taking care of my mother made me stronger. I saw all that my mom had to overcome, and I thought, If she can do this, I can do this too."

Since that realization, Torres has set goals and constantly challenged himself to do better. That drive is what is taking him to the Windy City in July.

Torres's story of inspiration and personal bests resonates with many of the thousands of athletes who will participate in Chicago's Gay Games, July 15-22, and Montreal's Outgames, July 29-August 5.

Both of these events have had to overcome their own financial, organizational, and public-relations battles, resulting in two separate yet similar entities and events. And like Torres, organizers of both the Gay Games and the Outgames are setting goals and challenging themselves, trying to avoid the flood of red ink that's colored every Gay Games since 1994.

For its part, the Gay Games VII Sports and Cultural Festival overcame a major obstacle in early February with the approval of a blanket waiver from the federal government allowing non-U.S. citizens with HIV/AIDS to enter the country to participate in or attend the Gay Games.

This had been a sticking point for foreign athletes, since the U.S. government does not allow people living with HIV/AIDS to enter the country. But with the Gay Games given "Designated Event Status," HIV-positive participants and attendees can now apply for a single-entry B-2 travel visa from their local U.S. consulate. The visa, valid July 8-28, will be issued on a special form instead of being placed permanently in the person's passport.

"This will not only have a practical impact on the Games, allowing HIV-positive participants, their partners, and others to attend, but this decision will also have a moral impact," says Kevin Boyer, co-vice chair of the Chicago host committee's board of directors. "The law blocking people with HIV/AIDS only spreads fear and does nothing to stop the spread of AIDS. So his latest decision brings attention to just how horrible this law is."

Chicago committee members are also making sure that their event's finances don't end up in the red, as has been the case with Gay Games in the recent past.

After the Games in New York, Amsterdam, and Sydney, the Federation of Gay Games embarked on a two-year study and made recommendations "that we took to heart," says Boyer. For example, the New York Games were held in conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. "The impact was that the brand of the Gay Games got lost and sponsors got confused, so we decided not to hold the Games around pride or other community events in the city," says Boyer. …