From synchronised swimming to same-sex dancing, the World Outgames is an Olympic-style competition with a difference - it's one of two sporting competitions held by the world's gay community. In August Antwerp played host to the third ever World Outgames, and Rough Guides writer Michael Turnbull went along to discover more about the city's LGBT community.
The Belgian city of Antwerp proved to be the perfect location for this event, which is still emerging from the shadows of the Gay Games. Having two LGBT Olympic-style events might seem greedy, but it all comes down to a small tête à tête a few years back.
In 2006 the Gay Games were due to take place in Montréal – that was until the FGG (Federation of the Gay Games) and Montréal’s committee were unable to agree on the size of the event. Consequently the FGG declared the city unfit to host. Refusing to be discouraged, Montréal carried on with proceedings and as a final gesture to the FGG, simply changed the name of the event to World Outgames. So we now have two competitions.
The first event of the third World Outgames was appropriately enough Mr Gay World. It might be easy to dismiss the event as simply a pageant, but as the guidelines point out "the Mr Gay World Organisation was founded in the hope of creating a more positive image for gay people, particularly gay men, to make a ‘difference’ and be accepted as human beings with equal importance and rights as straight people. MGW also seeks to fight discrimination and stigma within the gay community, empowering and raising the visibility of optimistic gay men as well as breaking down barriers created by discriminative individuals and groups." Something that is much needed, I think we can all agree.
Ultimately Mr Gay World must compete "in a variety of categories including leadership, sports, swimwear modelling and knowledge of LGBT world affairs" and after taking home a number of the category wins, this year’s Mr Gay World was Christopher Olwage, representing New Zealand.
But besides Mr Gay World, there were over 30 other sports to compete in with over 5000 athletes taking part. Although it is arranged by an LGBT committee the event is all about inclusivity and welcomes anyone regardless of their gender or sexuality.
One of the most liberating things was seeing gender stereotypes being challenged when it came to the various sports. Football, for example, was big with the female crowd, while same sex ballroom dancing proved very popular with the men. In fact, seeing two men dance together so intimately and competitively, in a sport that is so traditionally made up of a male/female pairing, was especially heart-warming.
But the World Outgames was not only about competing. It was also an opportunity to hold a Human Rights Conference for example, which featured talks from key speakers like Dr. Marleen Temmerman, Director of the Department of Health and Research at the World Health Organization, and Jón Gnarr, Mayor of Iceland's capital, who recently announced plans to formally revise ties with Russia over Putin’s anti-homosexuality propaganda ruling.
The whole event culminated in Antwerp’s Gay Pride festival with floats parading around the city and headliners including Loreen and Boy George flying in to perform.
Although the World Outgames may be over, the city still has so much to investigate. Famous for its fashion, Antwerp has seen many famous faces graduate from its Royal Academy of Fine Arts including Martin Margiela, Walter Van Beirendonck and Dries Van Noten. You can take a look at the Mode Museum or have a more hands-on experience and go shopping in one of the many boutiques the Nationalestraat has to offer.
As Belgium is famous for its chocolate, make sure you leave time (and room in your belly) for a visit to The Chocolate Line, the laboratory of Belgium’s famous chocolatier Dominique Persoone. As well as rich, luxurious dark chocolate, Dominique also specialises in more unconventional flavours like sun dried tomato, roast beef and watermelon. He also made a contraption especially for The Rolling Stones that allows them to rack up and snort lines of cocoa.
Photograph © Antwerpen Toerisme & Congres, by Jan Crab
If you’re after a night out on the LGBT scene then Antwerp has a range of bars to choose from. There are bars like Hessenhuis that are straight during the day and gay at night, gay pop bars like The Cabin and leather bars like Oink Oink and The Boots. If it’s a dance you’re after then you’re probably best off heading for Red and Blue, one of the most popular gay clubs in town, where the DJ plays a good mixture of RnB and dance hits.
It’s easy to see why Antwerp was chosen as the destination for the 2013 World Outgames, so next up is Miami Beach for the 2017 Games.