Participation, Inclusion, and Personal Best: Gay Games in Cleveland show the importance of sports for LGBT people

The last year has witnessed some of the biggest advances in LGBT inclusion in sports. The National Football League, National Basketball Association, Womens National Basketball Association, World Wrestling Entertainment, Ultimate Fighting Championship, and the Ladies Professional Golf Association all have openly LGBT players. The oppression of LGBT people in Russia highlighted the reality of LGBT Olympic athletes. Athletes have been coming out in high school, college, and professional sports around the world.

So that prompts some to ask why there is a need for the Gay Games. If LGBT people are making their way into the wider world of sports, then why create a separate event, the question goes.

I think that the response to questions like these can be best summed up by the three principles of the Gay Games, which were repeatedly outlined by the Federation of Gay Games Co-President, Joanie Evans: Participation, Inclusion, and Personal Best.

The participants at the Gay Games are not the best athletes in the world. But they are people who enjoy the health and social benefits that come with participation in athletics. They know that a little competition is good for the soul. They know that they can push themselves to their personal best, and that they are in a supportive and affirming environment to achieve that personal best.

And, as Greg Louganis pointed out in his remarks at the beginning of the Gay Games in Cleveland, the games are inclusive. Registration is not limited to those who are LGBT. About 10% of the participants identify as straight.

Mike, a first-time participant from Rochester, New York, is signed up for wrestling. He the Gay Games inspiring. "These games let people participate in sports they may have a difficult time to shine in other venues," said Mike. "But more important is the community and vibe. It connects LGBT communities and people all over the world in positive and healthy ways."

Mike commented about the friends that he has made around the world who share his passion for athletics. Whether they are competitors or participants in other sports, he's found connections around the globe that he says will last a lifetime.

The global theme has also been important to many of the participants. Many participants come from countries where being LGBT can be difficult, if not outright criminal. Brave participants have come to the Gay Games from China, the United Arab Emirates, Nepal, Colombia, Russia, and Sri Lanka, among others. The participation in the sports have given them a community that they may not otherwise get at home. It also creates a global network of solidarity with one another.

While we can continue to hope that LGBT people continue advancing in the participation of the athletic world, we can also stop to celebrate the participation, inclusion, and personal best that is achieved at the Gay Games.