Come Out and Play 

The Memphis Gaymes celebrate gay pride through sports.

Beginning October 2nd, the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center (MGLCC) will host the second annual Memphis Gaymes, a 10-day sports tournament in conjunction with National Coming Out Day on October 11th.

Athletes will compete in everything from basketball and football to bowling and Scrabble. On October 9th, Billy Bean, an openly gay former major-league baseball player, will be in town for the Memphis Blues Bash, the softball portion of the Gaymes. Unlike the other Gaymes competitions, the Blues Bash, which is sponsored by the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Association, will feature teams from all over the country.

"We're trying to show the larger community that we are just like them in many ways," says Len Piechowski, president of MGLCC. "Through the Gaymes, many of our gay and lesbian citizens will be playing in various sporting competitions, and that will serve to help break down stereotypes."

On October 11th, thousands of people across the nation will celebrate National Coming Out Day, a day encouraging homosexuals to come out of the closet. Some cities have marches and film festivals. Others have public service campaigns with television and radio announcements. But according to Piechowski, Memphis is the only city with a gay sports tournament running in conjunction with Coming Out Day.

Festivities will kick off with a parade of athletes beginning at First Congregational Church and ending at the community center. In the lead will be four people carrying the American flag, the state flag, the rainbow flag, and a torch. When the athletes arrive at the center, the torchbearer will light a flame at the center. Three people on the MGLCC board will then read poems and prose that they feel capture the spirit of Coming Out Day.

Several competitions will be held each day of the Gaymes, including bowling, volleyball, miniature golf, tennis, arm wrestling, basketball, flag football, softball, and a 5K race. Organizers also added a chess tournament and a Scrabble tournament. A pet show where dogs compete for the sexiest walk and the cutest face also will be held during lulls in the softball game.

"Last year, we had a drag race for drag queens, but only two showed up, so we decided not to do it again this year," Piechowski says. "It was funny, though, watching those guys in full drag running from point A to point B. One lost her wig."

The two-day Memphis Blues Bash is the highlight of the celebration. Gay softball leagues from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Tennessee will play one another based on skill level. Trophies and medals will be awarded to winning teams.

"Billy Bean will spend an inning with each team, either coaching or batting," says Steve Birkla, public relations director for the Blues Bash and a member of the Memphis Barflies softball team. "We wanted to get him here because he's a major-league baseball player who, after years of playing in the pros, retired and came out of the closet."

Bean played in the major leagues from 1987 to 1995 with the Detroit Tigers, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the San Diego Padres. He remained closeted until 1999. He is the only living former major-league player to acknowledge his homosexuality. After the tournament, he'll be signing his new book, Going the Other Way, a memoir of his baseball career and subsequent decision to be out.

Bean also will present the gold, silver, and bronze medals in the Gaymes' closing ceremonies at Backstreet's Coliseum on October 11th. Piechowski says the community center has ordered 216 medals.

"I want us to be able to display the excellence that's present in our community and celebrate our heroes, like Billy Bean," Piechowski says. "Coming out in the Mid-South requires an act of courage, and that makes each and every one of us a hero." •

The Memphis Gaymes will be held October 2nd-11th at various locations. For more information, go to www.mglcc.org/gaymes.htm or call Len Piechowski at 857-8523.

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