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 on Saturday brandishing their national flags and rainbow banners, to cheers and booming party music.
“The first time Gay Games (is held) in Asia… that’s awesome,” said Helene Germain from France, who travelled to Hong Kong for the first time to compete in dragon boat racing.
“Just for that I was really uplifted and I was really thrilled.”
Nearly 2,400 people will compete in 18 categories — which are open to both LGBTQ and heterosexual athletes — with the goal of promoting diversity and inclusion, organisers said.
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.
– Local opposition –
A few members of a religious group protested against the Gay Games outside the ceremony venue on Saturday as police watched on.
Hong Kong’s largest pro-Beijing political party, the DAB, this week condemned the event as an attack on “traditional family values”.
LGBTQ rights advocacy has partly gone underground since Beijing imposed a national security law in 2020, following huge and sometimes violent pro-democracy protests.
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 Mexico’s city of Guadalajara was chosen as a Gay Games co-host.
The two locations will host parallel tournaments on the same dates with no overlap in sporting events, organisers said.
Participants remained hopeful that the games could fight discrimination and promote wider acceptance of the LGBTQ community.
Student Jinsun Yang from South Korea told AFP she 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… so although I liked physical activities, 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.”