Gay Games open in Hong Kong after year-long delay
November 4, 2023 05:08 PM
More than a thousand athletes gathered in a Hong Kong stadium on Saturday to open the Gay Games, the first time the international LGBTQ sporting event has come to Asia.
The event was initially slated for last November but was delayed due to Hong Kong's strict pandemic curbs, which were only eased late last year.
Brightly dressed athlete delegations marched into the Queen Elizabeth Stadium brandishing their national flags and rainbow banners, to cheers and booming party music.
"The vision of the Gay Games has always been to create a sports, arts and culture festival that celebrates participation, inclusion and personal best," event co-chair Lisa Lam said in a speech.
Nearly 2,400 people will compete across 18 categories, which are open to both LGBTQ and heterosexual athletes.
Top government advisor Regina Ip said in a speech that "(holding) the Gay Games in Hong Kong is strong testimony to the diversity, inclusion and unity of our city".
Ip was the lone pro-establishment voice supporting the event, which was opposed by Hong Kong's biggest pro-Beijing party, the DAB, as well as some religious groups.
Hong Kong does not permit same-sex marriage and there is no law against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The city's top court in September rejected gay marriage but ordered the government to set up an "alternative framework" to recognise same-sex couples' rights.
Ip said the court rulings and the games "fully demonstrate our city's unfailing commitment to protection of minority rights".
- Local opposition -
A few members of a religious group protested outside the ceremony venue as police watched.
LGBTQ rights advocacy has partly gone underground since Beijing imposed a national security law in 2020, following huge and sometimes violent pro-democracy protests.
Gay Games participant Helene Germain told AFP she travelled to Hong Kong for the first time to compete in dragon boat racing, adding she was "thrilled" that the event came to Asia.
But Germain, who is also the vice president of the French LGBT Sports Federation, said some French athletes "(didn't) want to go to Hong Kong because the political situation".
The delay of Hong Kong's event meant that the Mexican city of Guadalajara was chosen as a Gay Games co-host and will hold a parallel tournament on the same dates.
Attendees in Hong Kong said they hoped the event could fight discrimination and promote LGBTQ equality.
"It's my first Gay Games, and it's very impressive so far. Hopefully it causes some good change," said Fiach O'Rourke from Ireland.
Student Jinsun Yang from South Korea told AFP they signed up for the Gay Games partly because of its "mixed league", which does not segregate athletes by gender.
"Sports culture is very male-centered... I couldn't really belong to mainstream sports culture in South Korea," Yang said.
"For a person like me who don't identify either as a man or woman, (the Gay Games) is a really nice space."