The curtain fell on the Gay Games in Hong Kong, marking what organizers hailed as the “best Gay Games ever.” Despite the celebration, some participants expressed disappointment over the lower-than-expected turnout of around 2,400 athletes, falling significantly short of the initial vision of 15,000 athletes competing across 36 sports.
Lisa Lam, co-chair of the event, acknowledged the event’s significance, stating, “We delivered the first Games in Asia. The Gay Games happening here shows the world that Hong Kong can be equal.” However, she also emphasized that it’s just a small step in a more extended journey for the LGBTQ+ community.
This milestone event faced challenges, taking place in Hong Kong for the first time, a city undergoing political changes amid the pandemic and increased Chinese influence. Organizers expressed relief amidst the jubilation, having faced controversy since the event’s origins in 1980s San Francisco.
The global event, once known as the Gay Olympics, navigated new challenges in Hong Kong, a city grappling with tightened political freedoms and a crackdown on dissent by the Chinese government.
Hong Kong’s unique political landscape, transformed by the National Security Law, added complexity to hosting the Gay Games. The city, chosen to host the event in 2017, had significantly changed by 2023. The law, enacted to suppress dissent, has been used to prosecute around 200 people, impacting various aspects of life, including LGBT activism.
While the event aimed to celebrate inclusion and diversity, concerns about potential arrests and political opposition prompted Team Taiwan to participate in the Games in Mexico instead. Pro-China conservatives in Hong Kong’s parliament fueled fears, labeling the event as a potential threat to national security.
Despite the challenges, participants like Nini, a Chinese man in his 50s, found solace in Hong Kong’s comparatively diverse and inclusive environment. However, the city’s stringent COVID response, coupled with concerns about its environment for the LGBTQ+ community, led to a splintered global attendance.
Just over 2,300 participants attended the Hong Kong Games, with more than half being locals, while others opted for the Games in Mexico. These challenges underscored the delicate balance between celebration and political realities.
While the Gay Games in Hong Kong were a momentous occasion, there were criticisms about the event’s visibility and promotion. Some participants noted a lack of branding and visibility compared to other city events, expressing surprise at the limited official acknowledgment, both in public spaces and on the official tourism site.
Regina Ip, a lawmaker supporting the Games, emphasized that while there was tacit approval from the government, public promotion fell short. The Games, despite their significance, maintained a lower profile in a city where street protests have been suppressed since 2020. The event’s organizers emphasized its non-political nature, focusing on promoting diversity and inclusion through sports, arts, and cultural activities.
Amidst these challenges, local gay rights activist Cammy Kwok expressed disappointment that organizers rarely mentioned the broader context of local gay rights struggles, including the ongoing fight for marriage and housing rights.