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Paris Gay Games offer respite for many foreign LGBT athletes

media The international Rainbow Memorial Run during the inauguration of the 10th international Gay Games in Paris on August 4, 2018. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

The 10th international Gay Games, under way in Paris, are not just a chance to celebrate sport and diversity: they offer crucial respite to gay athletes forced to hide their sexuality in their home countries.

Unable to share the truth about being gay with his family, 21-year-old Zhang Nan flew to Paris on the pretence of taking French classes.

But rather than practising grammar, he's enjoying the freedom that comes with being himself.

"My family is very traditional," he told AFP, his broad smile disappearing.

"My friends know I'm gay,” he said, adding he found it difficult to “be openly gay in China”.

The 21-year-old table tennis player is part of a delegation of 69 competitors from China joining 10,000 athletes at the games.

'I don't want to hide any more'

Athlete Jay Mulucha's life came crashing down when staff at the Ugandan university where he was studying discovered photos of him in the press attending an LGBTQ event. 

"In Uganda, being gay is illegal. You can be beaten, arrested, evicted from your home, jailed or killed," he said.

The staff cancelled his scholarship when they found out. “I had to stop my studies," he said.

Despite being expelled from the university, dismissed by his family and assaulted, he wants to begin living openly as a gay man.

"I didn't want to hide anymore."

He has since launched the country's first gay and trans basketball team.

"They feel at home, but they have a lot of challenges finding money for transportation, food and equipment. It sinks their morale. But such a team is unique, we are proud."

Due to a lack of players who could make it to Paris, he is competing with the Dutch women's team at the event.

"I have a dream that one day Uganda will host the Gay Games," he said.

Trainings behind lock and key

For a group of lesbian dancers in Russia, what should be a simple training session is often complicated.

"For some of my students, their parents don't even know about the fact that their child is gay," says Yulia Zhdanova, their heterosexual coach. She has won the gold medal for international Latin dance at the games, which is open to all athletes regardless of sexuality.

“We lock the door during training” out of fear of being attacked, she said.

In Russia, homosexuality was illegal until 1993, a mental illness until 1999 and since 2013 the law punishes acts perceived as promoting homosexuality to minors. 

"For some Russians, being gay and lesbian means something abnormal, immoral and almost like a disease."

Social pressure in Hong Kong

Hon Sum Ray Lau is a 38-year-old high school mathematics teacher in Hong Kong, who will face off with fellow fencers at the games.

Because of social pressure, he has yet to tell friends and family that he is gay, instead claiming to be visiting the sites of the French capital.

But in 2022 the Gay Games will be hosted in his home city, where he hopes to openly compete.


(With AFP)

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