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The first world Outgames, held in Montreal in the summer of 2006, brought together some half a million glbtq people and allies for sports competitions, cultural events, and a conference on human rights.

The Outgames were born out of controversy. Montreal had been chosen in 2001 to host the 2006 Gay Games, but disputes over financing between the Federation of Gay Games (FGG) and the Montreal organizing committee led to an impasse that resulted in a decision by the FGG to withdraw the award to Montreal and instead hold the 2006 Gay Games in Chicago.

Olympic champion Mark Tewksbury had been a key member of the Montreal committee. After the loss of the Gay Games to Chicago, he took the lead in proposing that the city hold its own glbtq sports festival in 2006. With excellent facilities, including some built for the 1976 Olympic games, and strong support from federal, provincial, and local governments, Montreal had all the makings of a successful venue.

The Montreal organizers sought to create an event that both celebrated and transcended sport. They invited glbtq people from around the world to participate not only in athletics but also in cultural programs and, importantly, in a conference on glbtq human rights.

International Conference on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Human Rights

Launching a major international event was a considerable challenge for the organizers of the Outgames, and the task was made more difficult when some 250 people from 60 countries invited to the International Conference on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Human Rights were initially denied visas into Canada despite the fact that many of these participants had received financial help from the Canadian International Development Agency to cover their expenses.

Most of the cases--including that of Edwin Cameron, a justice on the highest court of South Africa, who was only admitted after authorities were convinced that he held a full-time job--were successfully resolved, but a number of people remained excluded. Among those denied visas without explanation were all two dozen of the Cameroonian athletes as well as a choral group.

The Republic of Cameroon's sole representative was lawyer Alice Nkom, who had defended eight men and a teenage boy arrested in a raid on a bar and imprisoned because of their homosexuality. She expressed regret that her countrymen were not present "to bear witness to what we saw here and to hope that someday such things might be possible in Cameroon."

Despite the absence of a few expected participants--among them a Lebanese delegate who could not leave the country because of the armed conflict with Israel but who managed nonetheless to send a videotaped message--the International Conference on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Human Rights drew an impressive 1,516 participants.

Speakers at the four-day conference included Vladimir Spidla, the former Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, and Waheed Alli, the first openly gay member of the British House of Lords. Both applauded progress made in the European Union but noted that remains a serious societal problem. Alli pointed out that although some positive steps have been taken in Europe, they are threatened by pressure brought to bear by religious fundamentalists. He further noted that in seventy-five countries homosexuality is still considered criminal.

The discussions at the conference resulted in the formulation of the Declaration of Montreal, which enumerated the basic human rights all too often denied to glbtq people and called upon governments and all sectors of society to work for legal and social changes to secure complete equality.

The delegates adopted the Declaration at the final session of the conference on July 29, and that evening tennis champion Martina Navratilova read it at the opening ceremony of the inaugural Outgames. On August 1 the borough of Ville-Marie, home to the Outgames Gay Village, became the first political entity to endorse it.

Opening Spectacle

The Outgames began with pageantry as participants from 111 countries processed to the infield of Olympic Stadium. Spectators cheered them all but were particularly effusive in their support of those who came from nations where homosexuality is still a crime. Among the participants so celebrated was Nkom, who, although she is not an athlete, bore the flag of Cameroon as the lone representative of her country who had succeeded in getting into Canada.

Montreal mayor Gérard Tremblay was enthusiastically received when he delivered a welcoming speech, but the crowd showed their disapproval of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who refused an invitation to attend Outgames and who had earlier announced his government's intention to attempt to revoke the legality of same-sex marriages in Canada. The spectators drowned out Michael Fortier, the Public Works Minister, who was standing in for Harper, shouting "Shame! Shame!" and making a racket by clattering the folding seats of their chairs. Tremblay called for quiet, but the crowd would not be mollified.

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A photograph of the enthusiastic crowd at the opening ceremonies of the Montreal Outgames in 2006. Image provided by
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