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Volume 35
Issue 10
 
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Gay jocks converge on Calgary
Gay jocks converge on Calgary
by Dan Woog - SGN Contributing Writer

Gay men and Lesbians looking for an active getaway might consider the annual Ski Week in Aspen. There's also Key West, with its sun and sand. And who can forget that perennial Gay favorite, Calgary?

Calgary?

Sure. For the past 25 years the windswept city in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, whose economy has long been fueled by oil and gas, has hosted the Western Cup. Don't let the cowboy-sounding name fool you: It's a Gay-themed sports festival. This year, from April 1 to 8, the lineup includes ice hockey, swimming, running, volleyball, bowling, badminton, and curling. (Yes, curling's a sport. This is Canada, eh?)

This year, too, the Western Cup is adding OutRights (a human rights conference on GLBT issues) and OutFest (a "cultural extravaganza"). The total package - called the First North American OutGames - hopes to spotlight Calgary as a diverse, creative city with a vibrant Gay community.

Calgary?

"I know the perception of this city is extremely conservative and redneck-dominated," says Brad Bostock, OutGames executive director. (The event will be held under the same Gay and Lesbian International Sports Association umbrella that sanctioned last summer's money-losing Outgames I in Montreal, but these first North American OutGames should not be confused with those.)

"Oil and gas is still our predominant employer, but over the last few years a lot of different corporations have moved here, and our economy has boomed in a lot of ways," Bostock notes. The city's population has nearly doubled since the 1988 Winter Olympics, to one million. At the same time, Bostock says, the Gay community has come into its own. There are five bars and a number of cafes and restaurants, though Calgary lacks a clearly defined Gay neighborhood.

For years, the Western Cup flew under the radar. But as it grew in scope, people paid attention. Tourism Calgary - the city's marketing organization - supported it enthusiastically. Straight allies were welcomed on the organizing committee, and as participants. Bostock cannot recall any negative incidents surrounding the event.

On the contrary, he says, the Western Cup has created awareness of Calgary's Gay community, and an appreciation for the fact that Gay men and Lesbians are accomplished hockey players, swimmers, runners, bowlers, volleyballists, badmintonians, and - who knew? - curlers.

In fact, says Bostock, one of his favorite Western Cup memories is of a father and two sons who curl together every year in Calgary. One son is Gay; the father and other son are straight. But there they are, pushing the ol' broom and stone down the ice together every year, having more fun than any three curlers should be allowed to have. "That's what it's all about," Bostock says.

Curling is not all that Gay Canada is proud of, of course. There's Olympic gold medal swimmer Mark Tewksbury - a Calgary native who has lived elsewhere for many years. Tewksbury attended last year's Winter Cup and learned all about its first-ever swimming competition. He said that if the event had been available when he was younger, he might have come out sooner.

But in 2007, many Gay men and Lesbian are out as athletes. They form communities based on their sport, not just their shared same-gender attractions. The Western Cup provides a chance to meet other Gay competitors from across North America. Friendships form, and each year they are renewed and strengthened.

"It's so much fun to see friends from Winnipeg, Toronto, and New York get together each year," Bostock says. "It's nice to win and be number one, but it's more important to just be here, playing the sport you love with people you like."

Western Cup participants certainly have a good time. Each year, Bostock says, employees at the host Westin Hotel Calgary call the Gay and Lesbian athletes "the most fun group we've had."

But even the most competitive and/or fun-loving Gay hockey player, runner, or curler needs time to get in touch with his or her inner drama queen or activist. That's why Bostock is equally proud of next month's culture festival and human rights conference.

OutFest - produced by the decidedly unathletically named Fairytales Presentation Society - will feature seven days of dramatic performances, films, concerts, and comedy shows. One highlight: "a classic evening of Lily Tomlin," followed by a question-and-answer session.

On April 2 and 3, OutRights will bring together local, national, and international business and community leaders, scholars, students, politicians, and philanthropists, to share knowledge and raise awareness of GLBT human rights issues. Judy Shepard, the mother of murdered college student Matthew Shepard and executive director of a foundation that bears his name, is the keynote speaker. She'll talk about the importance of embracing diversity, respecting everyone, and preventing hate.

Who knows? She might even find time to enjoy the Western Games.

Calgary. We're here. We're Queer. Let's go curling.

For more information on the Western Cup, OutFest, and OutRights, visit www.calgary2007.com.

Dan Woog is a journalist, educator, soccer coach, Gay activist, and author of the "Jocks" series of books on Gay male athletes. Visit his website at www.danwoog.com. He can be reached care of this publication or at OutField@qsyndicate.com.

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