In sports, as in life, not everyone plays fair. The World OUTGames IV aims to change that. The games' fourth edition launches in Miami May 26 through June 4, bringing 10 days of events featuring LGBTQI athletes, participants, spectators, and thought leaders from around the globe — including countries where homosexuality remains illegal and hidden.
“One of the main ways people are unified is through sports,” says Tamara Adrián. “Sport lets us look at the idea of equality among all human beings.”
Adrián's not just any human rights activist. She's the first transgender politician ever elected to office in Venezuela, and the only second transgender member of a national legislature in the Western Hemisphere. Her talk, “Sex, Gender and Sports: a remaining space for discrimination,” will address gender inequality issues, which despite significant strides — in 2015, the International Olympic Committee published new guidelines that allowed for transgender athletes to participate in competition even before sex reassignment surgeries — have a long way to go.
Adrian says the sports world often mirrors oppressive societal norms that affect the struggle for human rights.
“The thinking that because it’s in the Bible, it’s biological, has serious implications,” she says. “The worst part is that it’s also pushing back women’s rights in general, because gender equality is based on men and women being equal. Women’s rights can also be set back.”
In Venezuela’s National Assembly, Adrián legislates as a member of the opposition party under the stranglehold of an insidious dictatorship that she calls “a coup d'état against the people.” Speaking about human rights in Miami, where thousands of her fellow countrymen have sought asylum, is especially meaningful.
Miami is the first-ever U.S. host of the quadrennial event licensed by The Gay and Lesbian International Sports Association to foster unity, inclusiveness and healthy competition in “three pillars” of “Sports, Culture and Human Rights.” Prior hosts were Montreal, Copenhagen and Antwerp.
The OUTGames, which will take place at various venues throughout Miami-Dade County, arranges competitions according to the skill levels of the competitors. In the spirit of true inclusiveness, OUTGames is open to all without regard to sexual orientation, even while it challenges heteronormative thinking in athletic culture. Athletes self-declare their identity and register accordingly with teams. There are no qualifying standards.
World OUTGames also features a tribute to the victims of the Pulse Nightclub Massacre among other cultural activities, and the 4th Global LGBTQI Human Rights Conference, a three-day gathering featuring keynote speakers from the United Nations, researchers, legal scholars and a legion of vanguard activists focused on issues ranging from health to human trafficking to workplace inequality and disability.
The conference welcomes at least one speaker from every region of the world where homophobia trickles into every aspect of life. Coming to Miami is a brave act. “We’re going to hear stories about each region’s challenges,” says Lynare Robbins, Inclusion and Diversity Officer and Director of Human Rights. “We have activists coming from countries in Africa where it’s still illegal to be gay,” she says. “It’s more than just families getting upset or gays experiencing ridicule. It’s jail time. You can get killed. There are zero protections.”
Those who attend the conference and its workshops come to collaborate and learn about empowering their own communities. “What happens in the realm of human rights has a ripple effect,” notes Robbins. “Look at what’s happening in Chechnya. If crimes are happening and nobody says anything, everyone will think that’s OK. We’ve got to make sure everyone has the right to live without fear and being put to death.”
LGBTQI athletes, says Robbins, have to play a dual role, especially in more masculinized sports. Many become activists to help conquer homophobia and transphobia. “They’re athletes dedicating their lives to discipline and hard work to excel at their game,” she adds. “But then they have to defend themselves, whether they like it or not. They have to dispel myths.”
They also have to deal with bullying as the result of intolerance, which children pick up on early in life through sports.
The Fare network, an EU-based umbrella organization dedicated to combat inequality and all forms of discrimination in football (soccer), will present a timely panel about discrimination at the conference considering that the U.S., Canada and Mexico have put in an unprecedented three-nation joint bid to host the FIFA World Cup in 2026.
“The focus is on an outreach campaign, especially in Latin America” says Robbins. “Crowds might chant ‘you’re a faggot,’ to shame a player because they don’t think an openly gay person should represent soccer. If a six year old goes to a FIFA match and hears their uncle or father scream a slur, the child is going to think that’s fine and then turn around and call a kid that. Words have power and are linked to action.”
The message Adrián brings to Miami is profound, and as much about humanity as it is about gender. “The Pulse Massacre was one way of expressing hate, and there are so many forms of hate in the world. Racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia — all these things are learned and need to be unlearned.”
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She’s also bringing a message of hope. “When I started my transgender journey, there was nothing,” she says. “The world is changing, little by little. In the future there’ll be people who start out with a fuller and more dignified life.”
Sports can help by putting human rights to the fore. “Intolerant societies like to keep these issues invisible,” she adds. “It’s a weapon of choice. When you make them visible through sport, you can change the world.”
World OUTGames Miami 2017
Friday, May 26 to Tuesday, June 4. The games' Global Human Rights Conference runs Friday, May 26, through Sunday, May 28. Visit outgames.org.