Olympic do Caucus

by Jim Provenzano
Bay Area Reporter

To get a more serious interpretation of the controversy surrounding over 20 drag performers being included at the ceremonies of the 2000 Olympics, the right wing reaction, and the reaction in the GLBT sports community, the Bay Area Reporter e-mail interviewed Jennifer Wilson, who is on the board of Mardi Gras, primarily working on strategic and organizational policy issues.

Wilson also represents Mardi Gras on the Federation of Gay Games and with Sydney 2002/Gay Games VI, and sits on several committees, and joked that, "My involvement with the Olympics has been to laugh at the signs that warn us about overseas pedestrians being about!"

B.A.R.: There's been a lot of lesbian and gay input into the 2000 Olympics; officials, volunteers, and administrators.

Wilson: There are a number of lesbians and gay men who have helped out in a variety of ways with the Olympics. From director of the Parade of Athletes (Mardi Gras' Parade Producer, Kathy Pavlich) to various participants in the opening and closing ceremony, many athletes (some out, some not so out) and to organizers of other events or other elements of events. As well as the "sports carnival," there is the Olympic Arts Festival, which, like many other artistic events, has a strong presence of lesbians and gay men. The general manager of the Olympics Arts Festival, Craig Hassell, was on Mardi Gras' board last year. Many of the artists partaking in the festival are openly gay themselves.

B.A.R.: A recent Olympics.com article about Gay Games VI showed only pictures from Gay Mardi Gras. Do you think this is problematic?

Wilson: Many of the images used by Gay Games VI have been supplied by Mardi Gras for use by them. In turn, these are probably the images picked up by Olympics.com. Certainly, the life and color of Mardi Gras often makes for great, marketable images of lesbians and gay men even if occasionally a little stereotypical.

B.A.R.: Do depictions of party costumes and drag further the goals of gay and lesbian athletics, who rarely get any media exposure, or simply promote parties?

Wilson: I think this is a harder question and I think there is no clear answer. A better question might be "Does the depiction of different lifestyles and different relationships further awareness of difference and increase tolerance?" And in this case, it's much easier to say that showing images outside the "nuclear family" norm probably is to the benefit of all discriminated people. Does it help LGBT athletics? Possibly, by fostering an atmosphere that is more accepting of difference and thus more conducive to coming out or simply being comfortable that one is acceptable.

B.A.R.: There was equal controversy about this at Gay Games V and the mainstream media's continuous depiction of body-painted go-go boys on barges and at street parties, but very little actual footage of athletes competing, even in the "official" Gay Games V video. Will this be the case in Sydney?

Wilson: Similarly if you look at the images chosen by the media to portray Mardi Gras, there is an over-representation of drag queens and bare tits-and-asses. A huge percentage of our floats on parade night are from religious groups showing their support, political lesbian and gay endeavors, and local gay groups having their night on the town. The press wants cliched images that say the same thing everywhere and hence the drag queen images. Was Gay Games V simply a canal parade? No! It was a vibrant sports and cultural festival that showed how many ways we can celebrate who we are. But there's a huge difference between this reality and the easy images that media pick on.

B.A.R.: While gay pride celebrations are about festivity, many people I've interviewed in the sports community are frustrated by this, even though Priscilla is a great movie.

Wilson: It is important to remember that the element in the closing ceremony we are talking about is an homage to a film, Priscilla. While many of us who saw the film didn't see ourselves and our lives represented in it, this is true of just about all films. That doesn't mean that the Priscilla element should be changed to be a promotion piece for the lesbian and gay community. There is likely to be a Babe float paying homage to this film and its part in the renaissance of Australian film, but there would be very little outcry from animal activists that this showed a biased view of animals (they're not all pigs, you know. Not all animals are pink!). It is important to not expect to see ourselves represented by the Priscilla float.

Having said that, as a community we should be saddened by how unrecognized we have been in this very straight sports festival! While personal biographies in programs are here for all to read (and wehope they all do), the bigger picture of the support, the volunteers, the experience (especially from Mardi Gras) and the people is not being overtly recognized.

I'd love to see the Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG) officially thank Mardi Gras for pre-training most of their staff and volunteers over years of fabulous parades and festivals, but it is unlikely. Even the Olympic city guide initially didn't mention Oxford Street as a gay area (they referred to it as an "eating precinct"). In this invisibility, this is where there is an effect on lesbian and gay athletes, by maintaining the idea that gay is not to be spoken about, is wrong. More talented young people afraid to come out because of the messages reinforced to them by media, and by the Olympics in their silence.