THE GAY GAMES AND THE TRUE OLYMPIC SPIRIT
Mark Tewksbury brought home the gold for Canada, then came out of the
closet and became a gay activist. In this interview with correspondent Rex
Wockner he talks about being a gay Olympian, and why the
2006 Gay Games should go to Montreal.
Rex: You swam in two Olympics.
Mark: I was in Seoul in 1988 and won a silver in the
medley relay, swimming the backstroke. In Barcelona in
1992, I was the gold medallist in the hundred metre
backstroke and a bronze medallist in the relays. So I
had a gold, silver, bronze from the Olympics.
Rex: You came out after that.
Mark: I then went on to quite a steady career in the
International Olympic Committee. They were grooming me
to become the next IOC member for Canada. I travelled
the world doing the site evaluation commission --
looking at the technical bids of the cities. But I
realized, I just don't fit here. It's this old world
order of hierarchy and very much a boys' club. I just
felt I couldn't be myself in that environment.
I was Canada's darling, but I left the country in 1994
and moved to Sydney, Australia, to come out,
essentially -- to explore my own sexuality. Finished
my degree in political science and studied gender
politics as well. I was studying the theory and living
the practice in Sydney. It was a great time.
I came back to Canada in 1996 because of the IOC. You
have to live in the country you represent. By 1998, I
just couldn't stand it -- some people knew, some
didn't -- it wasn't spoken about. And I just thought,
I can't keep pretending not to live my life anymore.
So I came out Dec. 15, 1998. I did a one-man show.
That's how I chose to do it. A good friend of mine
worked for the Globe and Mail, which is our national
newspaper, and just kept hounding me to let him do the
story. The morning of the opening of the show it
appeared on the front page of the Globe and Mail. I
had 96 calls from the national media by 9:30 in the
Rex: Just what you needed as you were psyching up for
Mark: Oh my God. I was completely unprepared. I'd also
done our Barbara Walters of Canada -- Pamela Wallin --
and I'd done a one-hour interview with her as well,
which aired that night. They agreed to wait until I
did the one-man show. The TV show aired right after
the one-man show. A couple days later I had to do a
press conference. I thought, hopefully no one will
show up, they're all bored with the story. But it was
huge, 18 TV cameras, it was just crazy.
Ironically, six weeks later, I stepped down from the
international Olympic movement. The Salt Lake City
scandal broke the day I came out. Because I'd come out
-- and had always been afraid to come out -- I was
prepared to lose everything. Toronto is fairly
conservative. But I had to do it. It was at a point
when I was so bankrupt as a person that I had nothing
| Ironically, I became this symbol of integrity
because I spoke my truth and all of a sudden, when I
stepped out from the Olympic movement, this gay guy
became this sort of standard for ethics and values in
this country. It was such a beautiful way to sort of
turn it upside-down. People sometimes are so morally
judgmental about gay people and our lifestyle choice
and all that crap. It really turned it on its head in
Rex: Where did you grow up?
Mark: Calgary, Alberta. So, again, extremely
conservative, where our sort of right-wing political
movement is based -- the Reform Party and now the
Alliance Party. It was very challenging. I think to a
large extent my sporting success was driven by this
real desire to sort of say, I'm OK.
Rex: Why does Montreal deserve to win the bid for the
2006 Gay Games, other than the fact that the city is
putting on a hell of an attempt to woo them?
Mark: At first I didn't understand the Gay Games. Now
is a pivotal time for the Gay Olympic movement. The
Olympics are supposed to embody this set of ideals
that they don't anymore. It's become all about
business. It's not about equality and fair play
because the leadership is so stacked and totalitarian.
Montreal's bid for the Gay Games has the chance to
move the movement forward. Done right, the Gay Games
can show what that Olympic spirit really is.
I will be presenting the final presentation [to the
site-selection committee] in Johannesburg in October.
The Federation of Gay Games, their mandate is
participation, inclusion, acceptance. Montreal is the
only city that is bidding that, should we win, will
allow HIV-positive people into our country. Montreal
is the right place to do it. The larger community of
Montreal will totally embrace it.
The opening day also will be the 30th anniversary of
the opening ceremonies of the Montreal Olympics. We
can also show people the Games are profitable. The
Olympic Games are totally financially viable but
they're morally and spiritually bankrupt. The Gay
Games totally embody that spirit but are financially
bankrupt. So I think there is a chance to take the
best from the Olympic movement -- how to market this
thing -- and have people see what these ideals look
like in practice. I think Montreal is the city that
can do it.
Rex: It's hard not to be impressed by the amount of
resources and effort and money your city and
provincial governments have thrown into this. It's
unprecedented in North America, probably anywhere but
Amsterdam -- and maybe even they didn't do more.
Mark: It's uniquely Canadian. Montreal is the
unique-est of major cosmopolitan urban centers. The
support is so incredibly strong in broader
communities. I hope the Federation of Gay Games isn't
like the IOC. I'm really interested to see what
happens in Johannesburg [where the decision will be
made on whether the 2006 Games go to Montreal,
Chicago, Atlanta or Los Angeles]. I hope they don't
fall into that trap of not living up to the ideals
that they're supposed to embody and not ensuring that
the cities that can really move the movement forward,
as well as host a good games, are taken into account
in the final decision.
Rex: If generating a buzz beforehand has anything to
do with it, then Montreal has it.
Mark: They're all good cities. I still think Montreal
somehow -- I have a gut feeling -- I just think it's
the right time.
Rex: How old are you?
Rex: Because you're so good-looking, readers are going
to want to know if you're married.
Mark: I'm dating. I was in a three-and-a-half year
relationship that ended in January. I'm just trying to
figure personally where I go from there.
©2001 WNS. Photos courtesy www.portugalgay.pt