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    First Published: Before August 2002
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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 morning.

Rex: Just what you needed as you were psyching up for the show.
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 to lose.
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 this country.
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?
Mark: 33.
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

 

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