The 2023 Gay Games, formerly known as the “Gay Olympics”, has come to a celebratory close in Hong Kong – but kept a relatively low profile to avoid conservative political backlash.
Asia’s first Gay Games was held in Hong Kong last week, with nearly 2,400 athletes competing from around the world, including Australia, and ended on Saturday.
The worldwide event is held every four years, with 2023’s event delayed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Games have been held in cities such as Sydney, New York and Paris.
This year, the event was hosted by both Hong Kong and Guadalajara in Mexico, which was included as a contingency due to Hong Kong only allowing foreign tourists from September of 2022.
The Games went ahead in the wake of a string of legal victories for the LGBTQ+ community, whose success in the courts stands in stark contrast to the increasingly hostile environment for gay and transgender people in mainland China.
The event saw several conservative politicians backing a petition to scrap the games. Beijing legislator Junius Ho said the petition “objects to any Western ideology that sugar-coated its agenda in the name of diversity and inclusivity for a sports event.”
This follows China’s increased pressure on LGBT events and communities, such as the suspension of Shanghai’s Pride March since 2021 and the shutting down of Beijing’s LGBT centre this year, due to reasons outside of the venue’s control.
Despite the event being allowed to take place, Hong Kong still has yet to recognise same sex marriage. Recently, a court ruling ordered the government to build a framework for same sex unions, but only as an “alternative” to marriage.
Even Regina Ip, the only Hong Kong official to attend the event, needed to clarify to the BBC that her support of the Games was not the same as supporting legalised same sex marriage in the territory.
However, she also hailed Hong Kong’s hosting of the event as a “strong testimony to the diversity, inclusion and unity of our city”.
“We are the first city in Asia to host the Gay Games,” she told the BBC. “This is something we are proud of. Many other cities cannot do this.”
Despite political stress and a divided audience – with some players and attendants visiting Mexico instead – the event concluded on Saturday without incident, with over a thousand athletes opening the games on the 4th of November.
The Games are open to all who wish to take part with no qualifying standards, due to some countries necessitating LGBT+ community members remain closeted. Australians attended the games this year with their own group of queer participants.
One of those who participated was Nini, a Chinese man in his 50s who visited Hong Kong for the event. He told the BBC that despite everything, Hong Kong remained more diverse and inclusive than what he experienced in China.
“I don’t seem to have participated in any activities this year,” he said, “so I want to experience the feeling of a rainbow shining.”
Originally published as 2023 Gay Games delight Hong Kong amid ‘objections’ to the event