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Meet the Man Who's Bringing the Gay Games to Hong Kong

By Jenny Leung 28 November 2017
Unless you've been living under a rock these past few weeks, you've probably heard the fantastic news that Hong Kong recently won the bid to host the Gay Games in 2022. It's a big deal for our city, given that the ten-day festival, which celebrates unity in diversity, has never been hosted in Asia before, and marks an exciting development in the movement towards a more inclusive community, joining the likes of Pink Dot Festival and the Hong Kong Pride Parade in the annual LGBT calendar. Featuring a series of events under three main themes of arts and culture, conferences, and 36 various sports, held at different venues across the city, the Games are set to bring over 15,000 participants and 40,000 visitors from around the world, generating around HK$1 billion in the city. Naturally, we couldn't wait to grab five minutes with Dennis Philipse, founder and chair of the Hong Kong Gay Games Bid Team, to find out how it all came to be and what's in store when the event finally arrives.

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Where it all Began

[caption id="attachment_106545" align="aligncenter" width="660"] Opening Ceremony at Cleveland Gay Games in 2014[/caption]

The first ever Gay Games originated in San Francisco back in 1982, and were held every four years after that, making its way to Vancouver, New York, and eventually Philipse's hometown, Amsterdam, which proved to be a life changing experience for him. Seeing the LGBT athletes donning their country's colours and carrying their flags during the Opening Ceremony in his home city was a pivotal moment in his life, opening his eyes to the fact that he was part of an amazingly strong and positive community, and that "being gay was much more than just a sexual orientation".

But it wasn't until 2014, when Philipse became the director of the Sports Weekend for the Season Festival, that he came up with the idea of bringing the Games to Hong Kong. "Hong Kong is an amazing city with great sport facilities and amazing outdoors" he tells Localiiz. "These facilities are safe, easy to reach, and all with excellent infrastructure - it’s the perfect place in Asia to host the Gay Games."

A Team Effort

[caption id="attachment_106544" align="aligncenter" width="660"] Philipse (centre, right) and the Hong Kong Gay Games Bid Team at the Paris Gala Reception[/caption] Armed with his passion and dedication to the cause, and the support of his trusty team members, Philipse began setting the wheels in motion, reaching out to the Federation of Gay Games for initial conversation, and working day and night to gather over 120 organisations and individuals who he knew were passionate about sports and community work, to show their support. The hard work finally paid off at the Federation of Gay Games Gala Reception in Paris (where the 2018 Games will be held) when it was announced that Hong Kong had won the bid for 2022 - a victory that Philipse attributes to the hard work of his team members, of whom all are volunteers. "I truly believe that without everyone on the team the bid would have failed", he tells us. "We know that a lot of people thought we were a bit crazy when we first had the dream that Hong Kong could start the bid for the Gay Games three years ago. However, with hard work, passion, and dedication, we achieved our goal as a team and we actually did it! We even have a special hashtag we use in our everyday communications to acknowledge each others' hard and impressive work - #teamwork!"

Overcoming Obstacles

[caption id="attachment_106550" align="aligncenter" width="660"] Philipse (far right) with the Hong Kong Gay Games Bid Team[/caption] Like any great challenge in life, winning the bid to host the Gay Games didn't come without its obstacles, of which pushing the message of diversity and inclusion took the forefront. "The biggest challenge for us was to make it clear that the Gay Games were not only for LGBT people, but for everyone regardless of sexual orientation, age, gender, or ability", Philipse explains. "The Games get their name because they are a sporting and cultural festival organised by the LGBT community that is open to everyone to promote the values of inclusion and participation, building towards a more tolerant community through sports." [su_quote]The biggest challenge for us was to make it clear that the Gay Games were not only for LGBT people, but for everyone regardless of sexual orientation, age, gender, or ability.[/su_quote] The second greatest challenge is delivering an event of this size in Hong Kong which has never been done before. So while celebrations may be over, the real work has only just begun. "We are now in the process of finalising the license agreement with the Federation of Gay Games, which will be signed by the end of January 2018," Philipse shares. "We will continue our conversations with the Hong Kong Government, supporters, potential sponsors and stakeholders, as well as the community to discuss how we can work together to organise the Games. Then there is the process of planning our marketing and outreach activities to aim to bring a record number of athletes from all across Asia to the Games."

A More Inclusive Hong Kong?

[caption id="attachment_106546" align="aligncenter" width="660"] The team celebrating their victory at the Gala Reception in Paris[/caption] Philipse and the team have certainly got their work cut out for them, but what does this mean for Hong Kong? Well, the official principles of the Gay Games are: Participation, Inclusion, and Personal Best, and while Philipse now incorporates these principles into his own personal life, as they promote the values you need in building towards a more tolerant community, he hopes the same goes for Hong Kong. "I think hosting the Gay Games will not only affect the LGBT community, but the entire community as a whole and not only in Hong Kong, but also in Asia," he says. "The Gay Games are one of the world's largest sports and cultural events, and we foresee the positive impact on Hong Kong to be tremendous. Economically speaking, we calculated that they will bring in HK$1 billion in revenue to the city, along with over 15,000 participants and 40,000 visitors from around the world. As such the Games will be able to showcase Hong Kong as a world-class city for people to visit." [su_quote]The Gay Games are one of the world's largest sports and cultural events, and we foresee the positive impact on Hong Kong to be tremendous.[/su_quote] Philipse tells us that during the last Gay Games in 2014 in Cleveland, he saw a great grandmother run a 100 meter race together with her daughter, and win a gold medal in their category. With the high amount of elderly people in Hong Kong, he says that nothing would make him happier than seeing them get involved or participating as volunteers. "Wouldn't that be amazing?" he beams. It most certainly would! Only about 1,825 days to go!
Find out more about the Gay Games in Hong Kong. Thanks to Philipse and his wonderful team, one of the world's largest sports and cultural event will be slowly making its way to Hong Kong. It’s truly history in the making, and we've got nothing but smiles and rainbows to look forward to, so keep an eye on their Facebook and Instagram to stay up to date with all the latest news on the Games.
Read more! Spend Five Minutes With some of Hong Kong's most colourful characters.

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Jenny Leung

Senior editor

Born in Hong Kong and raised in the UK, Jenny grew up with the best of both worlds. She loves just about anything to do with music and doesn’t shy away from belting out a tune or two when it comes to karaoke. If she’s not out and about exploring the city and practising her photography skills, she’s probably tucked up in bed with a book or glued to her laptop doing her online shopping.