As a Montrealer I could not have been prouder when our city was chosen as the host for the first World Outgames. Though there were some problems (serious ones as the event was almost changed to another city), but it is here and it is queer so get used to it, Montreal! Our city is now seen as a beacon of equality, human rights and progressiveness by the rest of the world. For those of you who are not up on what the Outgames are the idea behind them is to provide a safe place for gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, and transsexual athletes to compete. Now if you read this and think 'oh yeah, gays are really athletes' then you are sadly mistaken. There are roughly 12,000 LBGT (Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transsexual) athletes from over 100 different countries participating in this event. That is an impressive number of athletes from countries in every part of the world. It is truly a world event and Montreal is showing its intent to make it a world class event.
A crowd of 28,000 coupled with 12,000 athletes watched as the organizers of the Montreal games put on a first class show this past Saturday evening. The lights in the stadium dimmed at 7:30 and the athletes from all the countries came parading into the stadium from all four corners. There was representation from countries such as Canada, United States, England, Ukraine, Iran, and Thailand amongst many others. Each country was introduced, applauded and paraded around the stadium. The countries of Denmark, the Netherlands, Canada and England seemed to have the largest teams. Many of the countries' athletes wore outfits that you would see athletes wear at the Olympics, but teams such as Belgium (with their bright yellow umbrellas), Mexico (with their sombreros), Finland (with some of the male athletes wearing flight attendant outfits), and Thailand (wearing skimpy sequined outfits complete with headdresses) made the parade all that much more colourful. The largest applause was reserved for the 20 or so countries that came in together where homosexuality is illegal and punishable by imprisonment or death. A large round of applause for the athletes from (amongst others) India, Iran, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Bahrain, Pakistan, Syria, and United Arab Emirates resounded when these brave athletes came in together. One of the more touching or poignant moments was when the small team from the war-torn country of Lebanon (homosexuality is also illegal in this country) entered the stadium. One had to wonder how they got there due to what is going on now in Lebanon. They found a way and I hope their Outgames experience is everything they hope it will be. As they walked around the exterior of the grounds many members of the crowd stood up to applaud them as they passed.
After some speeches by various government officials, the mayor of Montreal, Gerald Tremblay (who received a rousing standing ovation) talked of how Montreal was proud to be hosting the First Outgames and said that we should all be working towards peace and equality in the world. Stephen Harper's (who turned down an invitation to attend) representative, Public Works Minister Michael Fortier, was showered with boos during the entirety of his speech despite a plea to listen from Mayor Tremblay. The snub from Harper and the Conservative government's lack of support for gay marriages was not forgotten by those in attendance and they let the government know how they felt. Former world class and Olympic athletes Martina Navratilova and Mark Tewksbury (Outgames co-president) read in English, Spanish and French the Declaration of Montreal and the games were officially declared open.
Afterwards came the party! Gay icon and diva, Martha Wash (from The Weather Girls) started the party off with "Gonna Make U Sweat" and her gay anthem, "It's Raining Men". That got the crowd dancing and next up was Montreal rocker, Jonas who performed "Edge of Seventeen" (Stevie Nicks cover) and his own tune "SuperSexMe". His portion of the show included guitar solos and pyrotechnics. Quebec chanteuse Sylvie Desgroseillers performed two songs including the appropriately titled "I Am What I Am". There were also two performances by members of Cirque du Soleil. One was a solo act with a man doing some crazy stuff inside of a giant hoop and the second act was two gold, buff, nearly naked men who did a balancing act that was beyond belief. Montreal diva Diane Dufresne came out dressed half in a black dress and half in a pink one and sang a poignant "La Vie En Rose". She really up the drama quotient in the show. Next up was Canadian Deborah Cox, a dance diva whose music has been embraced by the gay community. She sang three songs including, "Absolutely Not" and "Who Do You Love". Finally it was the headliner of the evening, Canada's own gay cowgirl, K.D. Lang, who has spoken out earlier in the week against Mr. Harper not attending the event. She sang "Miss Chatelaine", "Constant Craving" and "Big-Boned Girl", which she dedicated to the female shot putters at the competition. Diane Dufresne came back out to close the show with a number that was part side show and part carnival in content.
Before the Outgames began co-president Mark Tewksbury wondered if anyone would show up or whether it would be a complete flop. Well, there were 40,000 people in attendance Saturday night to show him he has nothing to worry about. The Outgames 2006 is off to an impressive start!