Africans from Kenya and Uganda join the 10th Gay Games in Paris

Despite strict anti-gay laws in most countries in Africa, some nationals are representing their countries in the Gay Games currently underway in Paris. Over 12,700 participants from 91 countries convened in at the Hotel de Ville city hall for the 10th Gay Games, which began 4 August. The aim of the games, according to the official website, is to combat discrimination, promote the recognition and freedoms of LGBT people and promote information on HIV/AIDS, drug use and other risks.

The international sports event, which had its opening ceremony at Stade Jean-Bouin, bills itself as the world’s largest and “most inclusive” — anyone can participate, even straight people. The event has grown tremendously since its kickoff in 1982 in San Francisco, where it was originally advertised as the “Gay Olympics” by its founder, Dr. Thomas F. Waddell, an Olympic decathlete. The first tournament included 1,350 athletes in 17 sports.

The 2018 games which concluded on 12 August ranged in ability from beginners to professionals and featured competitions in 36 sports and events, which included traditional ones, like basketball and rowing, as well as less common competitions, such as pétanque, same-sex dancesport and queer urban dance.

Jay Mulucha at the Gay Games opening ceremony in Paris representing Uganda in basketball. Image Credit: Outsports

Jay Mulucha, a trans-man, is one of eight athletes from Uganda competing at the Gay Games in Paris, thanks to scholarships received from Gay Games organizers. The point guard from Uganda played with a team he called The Sisters, a group of athletes from around the world put together to compete for gold. Mulucha was outed in 2010 when his university discovered he was part of the “gay community.” The school rescinded his basketball scholarship and cast him out. Since then the activist has started an LGBTQ organization in Uganda, FEM Alliance Uganda, designed to help queer people navigate the society. Mulucha said his organization works on health and legal issues on behalf of the community.

Kevin Mwachiro and Kelvin Washiko, gay activists from Kenya, received scholarships to attend the event from the Federation of Gay Games and the International Front Runners, an L.G.B.T. running club.

Mwachiro, 45, competed in the 200-meter run, placing fifth. He said to The NewYork Times that the number of older participants had inspired him to keep training and promoting a healthy lifestyle. Washiko, 32, had never competed in a race before. He ran in 10-kilometer and 5-kilometer races.

Most African countries have no tolerance for members of the LGBTQ community. In some, same-sex sexual activity is punishable by life imprisonment, a result of white Europe’s anti-gay colonial laws from decades ago.

“It’s not in our culture to be gay,” Mulucha explained to Outsports. “[They believe] we are co-opting the white culture and taking it back to Africa. So the general society is so so homophobic.”

Athletes from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Russia were among the thousands of people convening in Paris on Saturday for the opening ceremonies of the 10th Gay Games, held every four years since 1982.

The aim is to take as much momentum as possible into 2022 when the hosts will be Hong Kong, bringing about even greater benefits for LGBT people in Asia. “What we’ve got from Hong Kong already is that they’re so enthusiastic about hosting the Games,” says Joanie Evans, co-President, Federation of Gay Games.

“Having the Games there will open many doors for a lot of people who are more closeted than we are here. Hopefully, it’ll make a big enough statement there that it will change a lot of what happens in Hong Kong as a whole.”

Organizers say the Games are crucial because of the discrimination gay athletes face in sports, on both the amateur and professional levels.