The Gay Games: 1998

The first week in August 1998 saw the holding of the fifth Gay Games. And, for the first time, the Gay Games was held outside of North America. This time, Amsterdam was its home for one remarkable week, even by the standards of this city.

The first Gay Games was an initiative taken by the late Dr.Tom Waddell, participant in the Olympic Games in Mexico. From the first Games, which attracted 1,300 participants, the scale and popularity has steadily grown. Amsterdam had 14,299 participants and 250,000 spectators – one of the largest sporting and cultural events in the world.

Amsterdam Canal Parade

The day of the official opening of the Games coincided with Amsterdam’s third annual Gay Canal Parade, where carnival floats literally do just that.

Canal Parade - Games Boat

This was the official boat for the Gay Games. The two rainbow towers went up and down, and raised and lowered the yellow flag of the Games. In the background you can see the Amsterdam Opera House – the Stopera. This, and the area around it, became Friendship Village for the week of the Games.

Canal Parade - GayLM Boat

Royal Dutch Airlines – KLM – was a major sponsor of the Gay Games, so what more justification was required for GayLM – the “Legs in the Air Line”. And, of course, there were passing royal visitors…

Canal Parade - Royalty

Ancient and Modern…

Canal Parade - Ancient and Modern

And just to prove that we shouldn’t take anything for granted in August, it rained for part of the time…

Canal Parade - August Weather

Opening Ceremony

The opening ceremony of the Games was held at the Amsterdam ArenA. The entry of the participants (all 14,299 of them!) was both joyful and stirring, every last one of them being cheered and clapped by some 30,000 spectators. What was also striking was the number of countries represented by the participants – from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. Sobering to realise also that in many of these countries, gays and lesbians are persecuted – up to and including capital punishment.

Opening Ceremony

There’s been quite a lot of discussion over why we should have a “Gay Games” – some have said that it is separatism, when we are simultaneously seeking integration with society at large. While I can see some small justification for this view, to my mind it is swept away by the fact that we should celebrate our diversity, particularly in the light of the continuing existence of prejudice and persecution. The positive feelings that the opening ceremony ignited in the hearts and souls of those of us present are sparks that I’m sure we will carry back to our respective communities. As Harvey Fierstein said, to ringing cheers, “We are not different, we are extraordinary!” His speech that night was truly magnificent – reminding us that the journeys that we made by train, boat and plane to get to Amsterdam were short in comparison with the journeys in our souls to reach this place. “We were carried here on the backs of the millions of gays and lesbians that went before us… some of whom paid for the struggle against prejudice with their very lifeblood.”

I was impressed too by the speeches (at both the opening and closing ceremonies) made by Schelto Patijn, the Mayor of Amsterdam at the time. He epitomised the strong support given by the wider community of Amsterdam for this event. He rightly deserved the applause he received on both occasions.

And then there was the music and dancing… The 200 sailors stripping to the Weather Girls “It’s Raining Men”; Dana International, Mathilde Santing (now apparently christened as “the Dutch Diva”).

The Competitions

A friend of ours, Jim Atkinson, was taking part in the weightlifting competition at the Gay Games. On Sunday, 2nd August, I went along to watch some of the competition, and give moral support…

Weightlifting medals

Jim with Chris Morgan on the right. The end result – Silver and Bronze medals! Well done, Jim! You can see the results for all the sports at the Gay Games web site here.


The participants once again marched into the ArenA, this time with their medals and memories…

Closing Ceremony

The Scottish contingent proving that traditionally, nothing is worn beneath a kilt (it is all in perfect working order)…

Scottish Contingent

Closing Thanks

You can visit the official Gay Games Federation web site by clicking here.

About Geoff Coupe

I'm a British citizen, although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1983. I came here on a three year assignment, but fell in love with the country, and one Dutchman in particular, and so have stayed here ever since. On the 13th December 2006 I also became a Dutch citizen.
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