Sun, Aug 12, 2018 - Page 10 News List

Gay Games a respite for oppressed athletes

AFP, PARIS

Water polo athletes compete in the Gay Games in Paris on Friday.

Photo: AFP

The Gay Games which are under way in Paris are not just a chance to celebrate sport and diversity — they offer crucial respite to gay athletes forced to hide their sexuality in their home countries.

Unable to share the truth about being gay with his family, 21-year-old Zhang Nan flew to Paris on the pretense of taking French classes, but rather than practicing grammar, he is enjoying the freedom that comes with being himself.

“My family is very traditional,” he told reporters, his broad smile disappearing. “My friends know I’m gay, but you can’t be openly gay in China. The government never talks about it.”

The 21-year-old table tennis player is part of a delegation of 69 competitors from China joining 10,000 athletes at the Games.

“The competition here is very hard, but I came here mostly to find a man,” he laughed.

Passionate athlete Jay Mulucha’s life came crashing down when staff at the Ugandan university where he was studying discovered photographs of him in the press attending an LGBTQ event.

“In Uganda, being gay is illegal. You can be beaten, arrested, evicted from your home, jailed or killed,” he said. “When [university staff] got to know, they suppressed my scholarship and I had to stop my studies.”

Despite being expelled, dismissed by his family and assaulted, he wants to begin living openly as a gay man.

“I didn’t want to hide anymore,” he said.

He has since launched Uganda’s first gay and transgender basketball team.

“They feel at home, but they have a lot of challenges to find money for transportation, food, their equipment. It makes them lose morale, but such a team is unique, we are proud,” he said.

Due to a lack of players who could make it to Paris, he is competing with the Dutch women’s team at the event.

“I have a dream that one day Uganda will host the Gay Games,” he said.

For lesbian dancers in Russia, what should be a simple training session is often complicated.

“For some of my students, their parents don’t even know about the fact that their child is gay,” said their heterosexual coach Yulia Zhdanova, who won the gold medal for International Latin dance at the Games which is open to all athletes.

“After another sport club was beaten by Russians, we have to lock the door when we train,” she said. “It’s hard for us to find funds to buy our dresses, but I don’t like to fight. I prefer diplomacy.”

For swimmer Clare Byarugaba, the joy of competing for the first time in the Games could come at a price. She was forced to come out as gay in her native Uganda, after a local newspaper named her as lesbian.

“In my hometown, I can’t take the bus, I have to drive everywhere with my car. I am afraid that people will recognize me,” she said.

The LGBTQ activist is elated to be representing her nation, but she cannot help of thinking of her return home.

“I was so proud to wear the Uganda flag during the opening ceremony at this gay event, but now, I may face more problems when I return home,” she said.

Hon Sum Ray Lau is a 38-year-old high-school mathematics teacher in Hong Kong, who is to face off with fellow fencers.

Because of social pressure, he has yet to tell friends and family that he is gay, instead claiming to be sightseeing in Paris.

In 2022, the Gay Games are to be hosted in Hong Kong, where he hopes to compete openly.

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