It’s a warm Friday evening at Dolce Veele, a café bar in Guadalajara’s Zona Rosa. A tall drag queen stands alone on a stage at the back. She’s leading karaoke tonight, belting out a Mexican country song in sync with a video of a handsome cowboy that plays out front to the open street. The young servers sing along, laughing and smart-assing her. Passersby smile or ignore them. Then one middle-aged man with his small son approaches and they get up on the barstools. He puts his son’s drink and snack on the counter and orders something for himself.
Welcome to the truly family-friendly city of Guadalajara, home of the 2023 Gay Games. It’s the first Latin American city to host the games and this past January the city even made the New York Times list of “52 Places to Go in 2023.” It turns out the second-largest city in Mexico is a huge epicenter of both Mexican and queer culture.
“A lot of people outside of Guadalajara from other states have come here because they feel freer to be gay,” said Mónica Sánchez, Executive Director for Gay Games Guadalajara 2023. “There are a lot of artists here … it’s like a crisol [melting pot], un mosaico of people from all over México.”
I spoke with Sánchez, a bisexual woman, at the lovely and very mainstream Guadalajara Convention and Visitors Bureau. The event is actually being underwritten by the region’s governmental agencies. Sánchez and other Tapitios (Guadalajara inhabitants) are hoping that visitors from all over the world will head to the state of Jalisco this November to experience the games, the area’s rich culture, and the “after party” in Puerto Vallarta, which is just a half day away.
First held in 1982 in San Francisco, the Gay Games were created as an inclusive and healthy platform for queer athletes of all ability levels.
“Tom Waddell saw that through sport we can come together as a community and be safe and feel free to be yourself and be an athlete,” says Sánchez, herself a former professional beach volleyball player. She points out that the event is also called Los Juegos Mundiales de la Diversidad (The World Diversity Games) to emphasize that all are welcome.
Like the Olympics, the event is held just once every four years. This year’s nine-day celebration will include 21 different sports. They include more standard competitive events of track and field and swimming, but also bowling, cheer, and even dodgeball. The San-Francisco-based Federation of Gay Games chooses the games, and the categories include men, women and mixed. Participants are able to register in any categories they choose according to each individual’s “self-perceived and identified gender identity.” While some of the sports will likely feature high-performance athletes, the games are open to everyone 18 and older, of any skill level, and any sexual or gender identification.
“I always use the example of my mother,” says Sánchez. “She is 80 years old. If she wants to participate in 5k, we will open her category!”
In addition to the sports competitions, the games will also feature special galas Pink Flamingo synchronized swimming and dancesport (ballroom dancing), as well as exhibition sports Lucha Libre (Mexican wrestling), rugby, and skateboarding.
Guadalajara won the bid for the games in part because the city has recently racked up numerous advances for the community: an Office of Sexual Diversity, a Sports Federation for Diversity, and multiple changes to the civil code that including banning conversion therapy, recognizing same-sex marriage and officially recognizing transgender people and their legal rights.
“I think that when the people from the LGBTQ+ people take spaces, in the government or in activism and different spaces, we conquer those things,” said Marcelino Orozco Flores, a gay man who has worked for the local government and now works with Sánchez on the Marketing and Communications team.
His perception is echoed by Juan Cobian, a community activist and the Political Advocacy representative for Guadalajara Pride. “There is a lot of work yet to be done, but there is finally willingness on the political side to get things done.”
Cobian, a gay man, is from Jalisco and has lived in Guadalajara for 15 years. He notes that while the drag community does experience some violence and aggression, it is worse for the trans community. As recently as early March, the Catholic Church has implemented marches in Mexico that are anti-abortion, anti-trans, and anti-same-sex marriage. “They call us ‘sick people,’” said Cobian.
However, he also notes that the wider queer community has grown tremendously from their first Pride march in 1982. “Now in 2023 in Jalisco we will have 35-40 LGBTQ+ marches and there is a new alliance of Mexico marches. We used to see one march per state and now we see 15 plus.”
In another first for the Gay Games, Guadalajara is actually co-hosting the games along with Hong Kong. The first Asian city to host the games, the Hong Kong celebration will have its own unique slate of sports, including mahjong and martial arts.
“I think they made this decision because having the gay games there is going to help and push the community there to be out,” said Sánchez.
So what can an LGBTQ out-of-towner expect in November? Many of the world-class venues that were first used when the city hosted the 2011 Pan American games will be re-purposed for the games. While the venues are located throughout the sprawling city, many of them are close to two key neighborhoods: El Centro (the historic downtown and home to most of the area’s queer hotspots) and the more hipster Colonia Americana. In between events, visitors can also enjoy the beautiful plazas, fascinating Orozco murals, rich Neoclassical architecture, famous ceramics industry, home-grown tequila, mariachis, charreria (all originated from the region) and of course, the nightlife. The city has over a dozen queer bars, discos, and bathhouses, plus naked men’s yoga and Grindr.
Organizers are hoping for a turnout of 6,000 or more for the games. With Dia de los Muertos scheduled at the same time, the city should have a mucha buena onda (very cool vibe).
“It’s like the first time that I heard many people talking about the Gay Games,” said Orozco. “People said they found a family there through sports. For trans people especially, so many times they don’t find a family, so when you do these kinds of events, it’s not just only a sporting event - it’s for the community. And maybe you’re going to find a family there, a support there, and I think it’s one of the great things about sports.”
Dates: Nov 3-11, 2023
Location: Guadalajara, Mexico and Hong Kong, PRC
Criteria: 1) 18 or older, 2) Any skill level, 3) Any gender identity/sexual orientation
Getting around: Uber, Cabify, Train Lines 1,2,3, local buses
Little-known Fact: Mexico has their own much lesser-known version of Stonewall: “The Raid of 41”