Let’s face it, it’s tough to compete with the job Team Philadelphia did in the Gay Games in Paris, France, Aug. 4-12. In case you missed it, the 60 LGBT-identified athletes on the home team brought back 38 medals.
They competed in 18 sporting events and won gold medals in figure skating, swimming, basketball and softball. Bravo!
Well, our seven-person Team Rehoboth, Delaware’s only representatives to the quadrennial competition, may not have brought home gold, silver or bronze, but it was a 14-karat success in every other way.
Actually, there were only six athletes competing, and one coach. That was me.
Ever since I learned that the Gay Games would be in Paris this year, I longed to be able to march in with my team, holding our Team Rehoboth banner and celebrating pride with athletes from all over the globe.
Only problem was, the only attendees authorized to march into the stadium with the teams had to be either athletes or coaches. Totally non-athletic journalists don’t count.
But luckily for me, our team captain agreed to anoint me as team coach — with only one caveat. I had to promise not to give any sports advice to the athletes. No problem!
So I signed up as a non-playing golf coach, since my spouse and another team member were competing as golfers. I would have, of course, been equally at home not giving advice to the bowlers or half-marathoners among us.
On the afternoon of the opening ceremonies, Paris was in the midst of a record-breaking heat wave, still 97 degrees out as we began lining up at 4:30 in the afternoon. Thousands of athletes and coaches milled about outside the stadium, waiting for hours in the brutally hot sun, visiting other delegations and joining the crowd in guzzling so much beer that the vendors ran out.
But my dream of walking into the stadium with our Team Rehoboth was just as sweet as I envisioned, and twice as emotional.
As we peeked out from the entry tunnel, the crowd of thousands cheered, hollered and did the wave. As we stepped onto the field, two French hosts preceded us, waving a Delaware placard and announcing “De La Ware” over the thundering loudspeakers.
Behind us, Florida and Georgia stood ready, followed by the rest of the states, and then countries from Albania to Zambia.
As we started to cross the field, hundreds of thoughts collided in my brain, most echoing some form of, We’re queer, we’re here, and this old activist can’t really believe it. I was pretty sure those rioting queens at Stonewall couldn’t have envisioned the glory of this moment either.
I held the left side of the rainbow-colored Team Rehoboth banner; my friends and teammates held the rest, and we crossed the center of the field, grinning, whooping it up and feeling various blends of pride, thankfulness and desperation for another cold brew.
We soaked up every delicious hoot, holler and second of it.
As we ended our cross-field journey and scrambled to our seats, teams continued to march in for another hour and a half, filling the stadium to at least 15,000 people, with enormous contingents from the likes of the U.K. (900) and Germany (700) and finishing with thousands of French participants.
In between, there were teams of every size, including many brave individuals from places where it is both illegal and dangerous to be queer. There were two athletes from Jamaica, only one from Macau, several from Papua New Guinea and, oddly, more gay athletes from Uganda than Rehoboth. I couldn’t stop thinking about what many of them risked just to show up.
Of course, there were costumes. Texas had cowboy hats, Thailand wore towering Buddha-like headdresses, Mexico had musicians camping it up, and the Chinese team tossed adorable toy pandas into the air.
When the stadium Jumbotrons lit up with the words “We are stronger together,” everyone watching knew it to be true.
The next day, the Athletes’ Village came to life at the Paris City Hall, with vendors, sponsors, entertainment and food trucks. The enormous, architecturally impressive and historic Hôtel de Ville, dating back well before the French Revolution, stood draped in 21st-century rainbow banners.
Rue des Archives, in the Marais district’s gayborhood, simply exploded with rainbow flags, crosswalks, Gay Games banners and glitter. Men and women filled the establishments, spilling into the streets — a jumble of ages, languages and attire. It was Gay Paree indeed.
But clutching my part of that banner, representing Rehoboth in the International Gay Games and having this experience is something I will forever cherish. That, and my one shining moment as an athletic coach: “You go, girls!”
Fay Jacobs wrote five published memoirs. Her newest is “Fried & Convicted: Rehoboth Beach Uncorked.” As a humorist, she’s touring with her show “Aging Gracelessly: 50 Shades of Fay.”