The Guy Helping Bring the Gay Games to Asia for the First Time Explains How It Can Change the World
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The Gay Games in Paris just concluded, which means the international queer sports festival won’t occur again until Hong Kong in 2022. The Gay Games Hong Kong will mark the first time Asia has ever hosted the Games, and Dennis Philipse, Co-Chair of the Hong Kong Bidding Team that won the rights to host the 2022 Games, recently gave a TED Talk on his personal involvement with LGBTQ sports in Hong Kong and how the Games could change all of Asia, and thus, the world
Out in Hong Kong
Dennis Philipse moved to Hong King seven years ago and immediately started dating a great guy. When they broke up three years later, Philipse immersed himself in sailboarding and hiking, but he realized he wasn’t interested in meeting gay men through bars and hookup apps. So he sought out Hong Kong’s gay sports leagues.
Unfortunately these clubs were “mostly hidden and difficult to get in,” partly because many people in Hong Kong are still afraid of being outed as queer. So he started an organization called Out in Hong Kong to help local LGBTQ sports enthusiasts find each other.
The group began as a small meetup with 53 people, but the group now has roughly 5,500 followers on Facebook and a team of 10 volunteers organizing weekly events.
“The mission of the Gay Games,” Philipse explains in his Ted Talk, “is to educate people through sports in the spirit of better understanding. Everyone is invited to participate regardless of your sexual orientation, gender, disability, race or level.”
Dennis Philipse realized the games had never been held in Asia and wanted to bring this event to where he lived. He hoped doing so could change the region’s conservative attitudes towards LGBTQ people and, more so, change LGBTQ people’s attitudes about themselves.
Making Hong Kong a part of the international LGBTQ sports community
But the process of hosting the Gay Games is long, arduous, complicated and bureaucratic. Presenting a host city bid requires creating a big presentation explaining how the city and its venues can safely administer an international LGBTQ sports festival. Philipse and his volunteers had no experienced people on his team, no sponsors and no bank accounts to help with the effort.
Over the next few years, Dennis Philipse and his team began the process of meeting with city officials, business leaders and organizational heads, winning their support for the event.
At an early event of Hong Kong Gay Games supporters, Philipse was surprised to find 600 supporters in attendance rather than the expected 300. Evaluators from the Federation of Gay Games (FGG, the organization that runs the Games) visited Hong Kong.
“We really became a family,” Philipse says. “They were so inspired by Hong Kong and by our community. When we said goodbye to them at the airport, we really had to cry — it was so emotional.”
In October 2017, Philipse and his team flew to Paris to make their grand presentation and hold a 90-minute Q&A alongside representatives from the other short-listed potential host cities. Later that night, at a gala dinner, the FGG announced that Hong Kong had won and would host the 2022 Gay Games.
Changing Asia, changing the world
When Cathay Pacific Airways heard the news, it offered to fly Philipse and his team back to Hong Kong and filled the plane with gay and lesbian pilots. Each of them told Philipse and his team how hosting the Games would make them feel welcomed and acknowledged in their home country for the first time.
Now the Hong Kong Gay Games team has four years to prepare with the local government for an event in November 2022 with an estimated 15,000 athletes and more than 40,000 spectators expected to attend.
“The Gay Games in Asia is very important to me because lots pf people who feel excluded normally from other groups or events now have the opportunity and feel empowered to be involved in an event that’s bigger than themselves,” Philipse says.
The 40,000 LGBTQ athletes visiting from around the world could provide positive role models, help change cultural perceptions about being LGBTQ and get the region thinking and talking about LGBTQ issues in entirely new ways, he says.
Now seems like an especially good time to change attitudes, as China just participated for the first time ever in the 2018 Paris Gay Games, Taiwan is on the road to legalizing marriage equality and several Japanese cities began issuing certificates legally recognizing same-sex couples.
While other Asian countries like Indonesia are still very anti-LGBTQ, the Gay Games Hong Kong 2022 could go a long way towards helping its neighbors show Indonesia just how much life LGBTQ people bring to their home cities.