Pride, excitement and euphoria filled Montreal's Olympic Stadium on the night of 29th with the opening ceremonies of the first World Outgames.
As the stadium filled, the spectators were told of the 20 plus countries where being gay or lesbian is considered a criminal activity. As the athletes streamed in, the athletes from those countries were singled out and given a rousing welcome by the thousands watching the spectacle unfold.
More than 12,000 athletes filled the stadium floor surrounding a stage that supported an audio-visual live performance space. Before the 40,000 plus audience was entertained by the likes of k.d. lang, Cirque de Soliel, Martha “It’s Raining Men” Wash and Canadian favorites Deborah Cox, Sylvie Desgroseilliers, Diane Dufresne and Jonas, they were treated to a short program of welcomes and the presentation of the Declaration of Montreal, the now definitive charge to the world’s governments and sports organizations alike to combat homophobia and grant LGBT people full human and civil rights.
Montreal’s mayor, Gerald Tremblay, was greeted with a 5 minute standing ovation. He tried unsuccessfully to start his speech only to be interrupted by the cheers and support of a grateful crowd. “I know some of you are from nations where your sexual orientation can send you to jail or even cause your death,” Tremblay said. “Your presence here encourages us to continue working for a better world.” Montreal’s mayor was joined on stage by representatives of the provincial and federal governments.
Gay and Lesbian International Sports Association (GLISA) co-chair Catherine Meade of Halifax thanked the City of Montreal for making the Outgames come true. She told the crowd “Be open, take part, join in, let your spirit of celebration soar.” GLISA is Outgames governing body. Thomas K. Dolan of Vancouver, GLISA other co-chair told the athletes that Outgames is a celebration created to empower each of them. “You have shattered the illusion that anyone can take away your power,” he said. “There’s no such thing as LGBT sport, just powerful LGBT people playing sport.”
Olympic gold medal swimmer and Outgames co-President, Mark Tewksbury, joined his GLISA board members in welcoming the athletes. “When I swam at the Olympics in Seoul I felt all alone. I don’t feel like that anymore,” he said. “Together we have all made this happen. Long live the Outgames and long live your memories of being of the first!”. Tewksbury returned to the stage later in the program accompanied by tennis great, Martina Navritilova. Together they presented the Declaration of Montréal to the athletes, who represented 111 countries, and to everyone else at the stadium.
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and right,” they said together quoting from the famous first sentence of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was adopted almost six decades ago by the United Nations General Assembly and then enumerated the main points of the Declaration. Navritilova and Tewksbury closed the presentation by telling the crowd in unison “Brothers and sisters from all around the world, we are Muslims, Christian, Jews, non-believers, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs. We are humans!”
After the speaches the show going from rock to disco and to performance art. Interspersed among the performances were videos of prominent Canadians welcoming the world to Montreal. The first clip was of the Dr. Rev. Brent Hawkes, the first pastor to celebrate a same-sex wedding in Canada. He spoke of how proud he was to have helped pave the way for full marriage rights for all LGBT people throughout his nation. The last clip was of Montreal favorite and internationally acclaimed singer Céline Dion. Dion welcomed the athletes to Outgames. “The 1st World Outgames in Montréal are a wonderful occasion to celebrate the love that binds us,” she said. “It is a celebration of sport, culture and human rights in a spirit of true inclusion regardless of sexual orientation. I know in my heart that the 1st World Outgames in Montréal will be an unforgettable moment in our struggle for tolerance.”
After the ceremony was over, rue de Saint-Catherine—the main street of Montreal’s gay village—was populated to overflow by the Outgames athletes. Since Outgames’ activities began on 29 July with the International Conference on LGBT Human Rights, the merchants of Le Village have reported record sales. The other gathering spot that was filled to capacity was the Square Viger, the nightly gathering spot Outgames is producing to entertain the athletes each evening. Thousands have been converging there each night to celebrate, as Dion said, “the love that binds us” and their personal best.