Ooh La La! Something I’ll Never Forget
Ooh la la! The 10th Gay Games in Paris, the week of August 4, was an experience magnifique!
My dream of walking into the stadium with our eight-member Team Rehoboth for the opening ceremonies was just as sweet as I envisioned and twice as emotional.
The Games happen every four years; this was the 10th edition of the games, which started in San Francisco 40 years ago when gay athletes faced discrimination in the Olympics.
For the 2018 opening ceremonies, the US marched in early, and Delaware lined up right behind California. Seven of us waited to enter, as our eighth teammate (and captain), Bill McManus, marched in earlier as a board member for the Federation of Gay Games.
As we peeked from the entry tunnel, the crowd of thousands seemed small in a stadium for 50,000, but it had to be 10,000, with the lion’s share of athletes still to enter and take their seats. The crowd cheered, hollered, and “did the wave.”
As we set foot on the field, two French hosts preceded us, waving a Delaware placard and announcing “De La Ware” over the thundering loudspeakers.
Behind us, Florida and Georgia stood ready, followed by the rest of the states, and countries from Albania to Zambia.
As we started to cross the field, hundreds of thoughts collided in my brain, most echoing some form of “we’re queer, we’re here, and this old dame can’t really believe it.” I’m pretty sure those rioting queens at Stonewall couldn’t have envisioned the glory of this moment, either.
I held the left side of the rainbow colored Team Rehoboth banner, my friend Anne Geary held the right, and in between stood David Nelson, Bruce Robertson, Glen Parr, and Joe Della Torre, with Bonnie frolicking behind us, cheering and punching the hot night air with her fist. We crossed the center of the field, grinning, whooping it up, and feeling various blends of pride, thankfulness, and the need for another cold brew.
We’d been lining up in the brutally hot sun for hours, visiting other delegations and joining the crowd in guzzling so much beer the vendors ran out.
We soaked up every delicious hoot, holler, and moment.
As we ended our cross-field journey and scrambled to seats, teams continued the march in for almost an hour and a half, filling the stadium to at least 15,000 people, with enormous contingents from the likes of the UK (900) and Germany (700), and finishing with thousands of French participants.
In between there were teams of every size, including many brave individuals from places where it is both illegal and dangerous to be queer and here. There were two athletes from Jamaica, only one from Macou, several from Papua New Guinea, and, oddly, more gay athletes from Uganda than Rehoboth. I couldn’t stop thinking about what many of them risked just to show up.
Denmark, Israel, Italy, Norway, Surinam, Switzerland—just overwhelming.
Of course, there were costumes. Texas had cowboy hats, Thailand wore towering Buddha-like headdresses, Mexico had musicians camping it up, and the Chinese team tossed adorable toy pandas into the air.
The ceremony included song, dance, and Cirque du Soleil-style acrobats. When the stadium jumbotrons lit up with the words “We are stronger together,” everyone watching knew it to be true.
The next day, the Athletes’ Village came to life at Paris City Hall, with vendors, sponsors, entertainment, and food trucks. The enormous, architecturally impressive, and historic L’Hotel de Ville, dating back well before the French Revolution, stood draped in 21st century rainbow banners.
Rue des Archives, in the Marais District Gayborhood, simply exploded with rainbow flags, crosswalks, Gay Games banners, and glitter. Men and women filled the establishments, spilling into the streets, a jumble of ages, languages, and attire. It was Gay Paree indeed.
Through the week, Bill, David, and Bruce bowled, Bonnie and Anne golfed, Glen and Anne half-marathoned, and Joe and I “coached.” And everybody got souvenir participation medals.
I might add, we did not go hungry or thirsty throughout the week either, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish, pate, red wine, and croissants.
I would be remiss not to mention the giant dance parties, including the massive Women’s Party hosted by our friends at Olivia Travel. It was held aboard a humongous barge docked along the banks of the River Seine. Despite dozens and dozens of countries represented, the music was so loud no one could hear the diversity of language so it looked and felt just like a giant Women’s FEST tea dance at the Rehoboth Convention Center. Only with better scenery and a younger demographic.
Not that there weren’t some old gals there like me. There were. And we were the only ones who printed our tickets out on paper instead of waving our iPhones around for entry.
So from August 3-9, I came, saw, and even conquered a plate of snails.
Seriously, clutching my part of that banner, representing Rehoboth in the International Gay Games, and having this experience is something still hard for me to realize ever could and ever did actually happen. And it’s surely something I will never ever forget. Along with those snails. ▼
Fay Jacobs is an author of five published memoirs. Her newest is Fried & Convicted: Rehoboth Beach Uncorked. As a humorist, she’s touring with her show Aging Gracelessly: 50 Shades of Fay. More Fay Jacobs.