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Barred from the games.

For me, the most moving moment of the Sydney Gay Games in 2002 was during the opening ceremony, when the participants from India and Pakistan--two nations long at war--decided to walk together, hand in hand, into the stadium. This gesture showed that gays and lesbians are able to transcend national, political, ethnic, and religious boundaries--the true vision of Tom Waddell, founder of the Games.

The charter of the Federation of Gay Games states that "no individual shall be excluded from participating on the basis of sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, nationality, ethnic origin, political beliefs, athletic/ artistic ability, physical challenge, or HIV stares." But it is exactly this principle that is now in danger of being violated as the Gay Games looks for a new home for the 2006 event.

Having withdrawn from the host city that was designated in 2002--Montreal--after disagreements about financial control, the federation is now reportedly considering only three previous 2006 finalists as hosts: Atlanta, Chicago, and Los Angeles. In other words, the next Games will be held in the United States.

As a travel management consultant based in Germany, I work on a daily basis with global visa rules, transborder health regulations, and data privacy issues for visitors to the United States. I am very aware of how U.S. regulations directly contradict the principles of the Gay Games. For starters, America is one of a few countries that ban entry to foreigners with HIV. While a so-called routine HIV waiver may be issued to allow people with HIV to attend the Games, each participant must still declare on an immigration form ff he or she is HIV-positive, and it's still up to each immigration officer to grant or deny entry, regardless of any waiver.

Except for citizens from 27 exempted countries, mostly European, all visitors must also apply in person for a valid visa. Imagine the cost to a gay athlete from China, India, or Ghana just to visit a U.S. consulate to obtain that document and their fear in declaring that the purpose of their visit is to attend the Gay Games. Recent rules now also require every foreign visitor with a visa to be photographed and fingerprinted--not a welcoming practice, particularly to gay people who may be closeted for their own protection at home. On top of that, guests from most Muslim countries must submit to "special registration," available only at designated ports. They are more closely tracked and must report in person to an immigration officer upon departure.

When I brought these issues to the attention of the Federation of Gay Games, my concerns were dismissed as "based on a general misunderstanding of immigration policies." .lake Stafford, media relations coordinator for the federation, accused me of "using nationalistic or, rather, reverse nationalistic rhetoric." My remarks, he said, were "an insult to GLBT Americans who are struggling on the ground here to change our country for the better."

Stafford is absolutely correct: I am seeing Otis issue from a "reverse nationalistic" view--a global view. While the Gay Games may have originated in the United States, it has now grown worldwide and represents our worldwide community--it is not American. There are certainly GLBT rights for which Americans are indeed "straggling on the ground," such as same-sex marriage. But do you want to tell my Iraqi friend that he's disrespecting the struggle of GLBT Americans when in his country he could be jailed simply for being gay? Do you want to tell a lesbian from Egypt that she cannot come to the Games due to U.S. policies but that Americans will be happily celebrating for her in Los Angeles? How can we go ahead and celebrate our pride when some people are excluded by the policies of the host country or by fear of exposure at home? How will we feel when instead of arriving arm in arm, few GLBT people from Pakistan and India dare appear at all?

I do understand and acknowledge that organizing the Gay Games is a monumental task. But that challenge must always be secondary to adhering to the principles of global inclusion, equality, and integration--principles that simply are not possible under current U.S. policies.

Wellauer, who lives in Berlin, has" participated in the past three Games.
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Title Annotation:my perspective
Author:Wellauer, Andreas J.G.
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Date:Mar 16, 2004
Previous Article:Beyond marriage.
Next Article:Rants & raves.

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