"Out in the Castro: Desire, Promise, Activism"
by Gene Dermody
Published & Edited by Winston Leyland
First Edition November 2002
The Castro: BirthPlace of the Gay Games Movement
The Last Closet: The Locker Room
Liberation: the 50's, 60's & 70's
Tom Waddell: The Gay Olympian
Rikki Streicher: Early Hero
Birth of a Movement
The New Community
|Saturday Evening 18 June 1994
Unity '94 Gay Games IV
Columbia University's Wien Stadium NYC
Team San Francisco's Golden Gate Wrestlers
lead the Procession of Athletes
|The Last Closet:
The Locker Room
|“Tom Waddell was an extraordinary human being. He was an artist – a painter, a photographer, and a dancer
– and he was an athlete – a college football player, gymnast, and track and field star, so gifted, versatile, and
dedicated, that at the age of thirty, he won a place on the 1968 United states Olympic team as a decathlete. In
the Games in Mexico City, Tom finished sixth in the decathlon an event that is often considered the ultimate
test of athletic ability” (courtesy The Gay Olympian, by Tom Waddell & Dick Schaap, A. A. Knopf, NYC 1996).
|Add to that Tom was a father, a doctor, a US Army paratrooper, and -GAY-, and you have the consummate
Renaissance man. Over the years, since Tom Waddell’s achievements first turned heads in the two strongest bastions of
homophobia, the military and sports, other outstanding athletes have followed suit. Dave Kopay in professional football
(who actually preceded Tom), Billy Bean in baseball, Greg Louganis in diving, Rudy Galindo in figure skating, and Martina
Navartilova in tennis to name a few. Maybe a few dozen more, but hardly enough to be an effective set of role models for
a community so mercilessly stereotyped, or to engender the kind of societal attitude change so desperately needed.
|Each of the above has their athletic and
personality strengths (and weaknesses),
but their human frailties appear
magnified in comparison because of the
sheer lack of numbers. Especially
missing are the huge numbers of non-
celebrities: the coaches, the trainers, the
parents, the officials, the winners, -
AND- the losers. Anecdotal notoriety
is not much better than being a freak.
Even to this day, the taboo is only just
starting to get the attention it needs by
|Gay Games II
attempts have been made by non-athletic intellectuals to explain it
(overly simplistic, politically motivated, patriarchal
‘gender/victim’ litanies), the ‘Locker Room’ still remains the last closet that stubbornly refuses to open. Tom Waddell’s
vision of a ‘Gay Games’ was the first effective attempt to address this problem. Instead of ‘talking’ about discrimination
and mobilizing political forces, ‘Gay Games’ was to take a ‘positive’ approach. It was to be a celebration, a showcase of
athletic talent, a chance to compete, a chance to belong, a chance to be free, and most importantly, a chance to have
FUN. It was to become a tradition, almost a cult, the ‘Gay Games Movement’, and it all started right here in 1980, in
the Castro district of San Francisco.
|The San Francisco -we- all know and take for granted today,
had its roots in the military discharging and settling of many
WWII and Korean War ‘Pacific Theater’ veterans, who really
had no real reason to go back to the isolation of their hinterland
closets. For all its current rhetoric, the military was always a
safe alternative (like the clergy). To continue those contacts
and relationships after their military service, in such a beautiful
place as San Francisco, was a ‘no-brainer’, and a large
underground community established itself, and thrived through
the ‘50’s. Couple this with the rise of the counter-cultural
‘Beatnik’ generation of writers in North Beach, and the stage
The ‘60’s brought more of the same ferment: free speech, civil
rights, Vietnam, political turmoil, the sexual revolution, and a
more assertive community with growing political clout. The
community revolved around clubs and bars, and these
institutions became both the focal points -and- financial
resources of everything from Political Action Committees
(PACs) to softball teams. Regardless of what we may
haughtily, think of alcohol and tobacco today, in those days, the
bars were the -only- option. The gyms had not yet become the
preferred cruising grounds. ‘Drag Shows’ were still a primary
hallmark of the community, and Polk Street began to emerge as
the community center.
The ‘50’s, 60s, & 70’s
|Unity ’94 NYC
Official Gay Games IV Flag
|The 1967 Haight-Ashbury ‘Summer of Love’ spawned a decade of sexual hedonism in the community. Bath-houses
sprung up all over town, Buena Vista Park became a notorious trysting spot, and the Castro morphed from a sleepy
German-Irish blue-collar Catholic neighborhood, into what it is today. The ‘70’s in San Francisco were an over
indulgence in whatever. An explosion of sex, drugs, and alcohol, generations of pent up sexual energy, tension, and
frustration would attract people from all over the world to Herb Caen's ‘Babylon-by-the-Bay’. Armistead Maupin’s
‘Tales of the City’ was then just a very popular newspaper series that celebrated the ‘off-beat’ nature of the
community. Today in hindsight, the film version reads naively romantic. Harvey Milk was elected to the Board of
Supervisors, and rampant STDs were the commonplace ‘badges of courage’.
|But by the end of the 70’s decade, a nervous anxiety
began to take hold in the community. Supervisor
Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were
assassinated, resulting in the ‘White Night Riots’,
and the very first cases of Kaposi Sarcoma in young
men were being reported nationwide. As AIDS
activist and author, Randy Schilts, was to later infer
in the title of his chronicle “…And The Band
Played On”, the party was ‘officially’ over, but no
one was leaving to go home. The election of Ronald
Reagan in 1980 was just the beginning of the
community’s huge hangover. It was with this
dramatic backdrop of social change that Tom
Waddell would evolve from community spectator, to
participant, to leader, to victim.
|Monday 2 November 2002
Anne Clarke Centre
Gay Games VI
Champion Golden Gate
|Tom Waddell: The Gay Olympian
(courtesy The Gay Olympian, by Tom Waddell & Dick Schaap, A. A. Knopf, NYC 1996)
|Tom Waddell (born Tom Flubacher, November 1937) was an unremarkable north New Jersey boy (Paterson area), with
an immigrant ‘Catholic’ set of post depression values. He was a natural, an ‘Olympic’ class athlete at a very early age, and
competed as an outstanding athlete for Ramsey high school. Tom entered Springfield College (MA) in 1957 as a
‘closeted heterosexual virgin’. He excelled in gymnastics, and played some football. He loved to dance and perform.
After college, it was the military and medical school, while still training in track & field with the US Army.
Tom was a social activist, very involved in the causes of the ‘60’s, Vietnam and civil rights. Tom went to Selma Alabama
in 1965, filed as a ‘Conscientious Objector’ while in the US Army in 1967, and was not one to hide his leftist opinions.
In 1968, Tom had made the US Olympic Decathlon squad at age 30, through sheer determination. Tom placed sixth,
actually an over achievement for him, but the event was overshadowed, by the more noteworthy performances of two
black runners from San Jose State, Tommy Smith and John Carlos.
|On October 16, 1968, three American black men lined up for the Olympic finals
of the 200 meter dash. Tommy Smith took the Gold, and John Carlos the
Bronze. The headiness of the American fans was thrown by a shocking
performance that was to be televised around the world. Tom was reprimanded
by the US Army for publicly (and inappropriately) supporting this incident in an
interview. A quote from a news account of the day:
|“When the medalists stood upon the victory stands, Smith and Carlos
both had their sweatpant legs rolled up, exposing long black socks and
And as the “Star Spangled Banner” was played, Smith, on the top rung
of the stand, pulled his right hand out of his windbreaker and raised it
high; Carlos, on the bottom rung, pulled out his left hand and raised it
Each clenched his fist in protest, and each fist wore a black glove.
Both mens heads were bowed, ignoring the national anthem, and the
American flag. “
|In less than nine months, another radical public statement would jolt American social consciousness: June 1969, NYC
Greenwich Village, The StoneWall Bar on Christopher St. An unlikely incident: A ‘Drag Queen’ revolt against police
harassment, and a rout of NYC’s finest, in a bloody street brawl. Some trivialized the event, saying it was just the acting
out of some emotional types over the recent drug related death of victim-icon Judy Garland. Hardly.
In 1970, Tom Waddell moved on to California to continue his medical graduate fellowship at Stanford, and began his
relationship with the San Francisco community he would come to be most identified with. Tom opened a free ‘drop-in’
clinic, and his work during this period brought him to the realization of the importance of (and observed lack of) self-
esteem and self-discipline within the community he was serving. These were personality characteristics he took for
granted with himself, and attributed his success to. Tom believed that the stereotypes and obsession with sex were
destroying the community.
How observant Tom was of what was happening around him in the community. It was a natural progression to the
conclusion: ‘SPORTS’ could be that self-help vehicle, and what better way, than a ‘Gay Olympics’. On June 15, 1980,
together with the sports reporter for the Bay Area Reporter, Mark Brown, and HollyWood stuntman/rodeo champ Paul
Mart, Tom founded the ‘United States Gay Olympics Committee’. Eventually, this committee would morph into ‘San
Francisco Arts & Athletics (SFAA)’. The ‘Arts’ were added in order to qualify for the California 501c3 non-profit
Tom eventually met new SFAA member Sara Lewinstein while working at the Gay Games I (GGI) office, and the
chemistry just clicked. Sara was very involved in bowling and softball, and was a natural fit in the planning of GGI. They
eventually agreed to have a child together, and soon after the successful GGI, Jessica was born to Tom and Sara (August
During the period between GGI and GGII, Tom became obsessed with researching the emerging AIDS epidemic, and
struggled with his political values, in an effort to develop and advocate a sound public health policy for the community.
When he supported Mayor Feinstein’s shutting down of the bath houses and preached an end to promiscuity, he was
savaged by the ‘erotic capitalists’ of the community. Like Larry Kramer of NYC, Tom Waddell was to play Cassandra,
the scorned prophet of impending doom. In 1985 Tom was diagnosed with AIDS. The Los Angeles Times, August
1986, wrote the following:
|"DateLine: San Franciso-
Dr. Tom Waddell, a tall
muscular blond Greek
God type, when he
represented his country in
the 1968 Mexico City
Olympics, still looks pretty
good. Lankier now, and
bearded, in his favorite
dress of sweats and
sneakers, he still suggests
the supple strengths of the
man, who was once the
world’s sixth best
Not bad for a guy pushing
50. Not bad for someone
dying of AIDS. "
|Soon after GGII, Tom Waddell would finally lose the fight, and give it up. With the irreverent quip “Well this should be
interesting”, he downed 30 purple morphine pills. On July 11, 1987, Tom Waddell died peacefully, and San Francisco
|The counterpart to Tom Waddell in founding the ‘Gay Games Movement’ was
Rikki Streicher, a diminutive but tough woman, intelligent and resourceful, who had
immense integrity, and was simultaneously generous and demanding. Rikki was one
of those military women who settled early in San Francisco.
|Whereas Tom was the front office smooth talking ‘good old boy’, Rikki was the real backroom ‘grunt’ and ‘bucks’
power. It must have made for a comical duo a la Mutt & Jeff….the over six foot Tom and the barely five foot Rikki,. with
her classic dutch-boy haircut, especially knowing who really wore the pants at SFAA.
Like Tom, she would mortgage her home and business for causes she believed in. The San Francisco Gay Men’s
Chorus tour back in the ‘70’s, the Gay Games, etc… Rikki had opened the first and longest running San Francisco all
women’s bar, ‘Maude’s Study’ in 1966, and became one of the more successful business persons in the community.
When Maude’s closed in 1991, she then opened Amelia’s.
Rikki sponsored numerous softball, pool, basketball, and bowling teams through Maude’s and later Amelia’s. She was
one of the original SFAA directors, serving as co-president and again as treasurer. Rikki was present at the Supreme
Court when it handed down the USOC decision about the word “Olympic’. There were not too many ‘angels’ around in
those days, but Rikki was definitely this community’s chief ‘ArchAngel’.
|Rikki received a Cable Car Award from the FGG for her community service in
1992. She was then awarded the second Tom Waddell Award in 1994 GGIV in
NYC. Rikki died of stomach cancer soon after. The San Francisco
Department of Parks & Recreation dedicated and named the Eureka Valley
softball field in the Castro after her, the Rikki Streicher Field.
Gay Games III
|Birth of a Movement
Gay Games I "Challenge in 1982" August 1982(GGI)San Francisco CA 1300
Gay Games II "Triumph in 1986" August 1986 (GGII ) San Francisco CA 3500
Gay Games III "Celebration 1990" August 1990 (GGIII) Vancouver BC 7500
Gay Games IV "Unity 1994" June 1994 NYC NY (GGIV) 12500
Gay Games V "Friendship 1998" August 1998 Amsterdam NL 13000
Gay Games VI "Under New Skies 2002" November 2002 Syndey AU 11000
Gay Games VII "Where The World Meets" July 2006 Chicago IL 12000
Gay Games VIII "???????????????????" July 2010 Koeln DE ?????
|Like all recursive events that are so radically different and long overdue, the ‘first’ (GGI) was to prove top be the most
exciting and successful of any of its sequels. Run on a shoestring budget of approximately $125,000, they took in a
modest profit of $7,000, which was immediately plowed back into the planning for GGII. The key to the success was
the incredibly generous spirit of the volunteers from the community. Such unselfish idealistic involvement, driven by such
an infectious optimism, was not to be seen again.
As the subsequent games acquired a more professional feel, the budgets grew into the millions. Inappropriate corporate
sponsorships (e.g.. beer & lube) were signed, while inappropriate activities were ‘bolted on’, which overshadowed the
athletics (e.g.. the softporn ‘Canal Parade’), all these compromises, just to feed the ‘bigger-is better’ beast.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) model could have worked, but the later organizers were without Tom’s clear
vision of a true ‘athletic mission’. GGVI Sydney 2002 would be the culmination of a string of four financial and image
disasters. But for one brief shining moment, Tom Waddell’s vision would be realized in its purest essence. Below is this
author’s personal recollection of his GGI epiphany Saturday August 28 1982:
|“It is hard after these 20 years, being so
jaded, to convey the absolute feeling of
liberation and joy I felt that day at Kezar
Stadium. I have never experienced that
level of exhilaration since. As
preparations were being made inside the
stadium, some 1300 athletes mulled
outside for some three hours, in the
typical cool fog of San Francisco. We
could hear the wild cheering inside, but
were not yet sure what they were excited
about. Could it be ‘us’?.
Many ‘travel-challenged’ like me, who
thought California summer weather was
hot and humid, arrived dressed only in
shorts, t-shirts, and back-packs, not
prepared for the 50 degree cold winds.
|Saturday 28 August 1982
Gay Games I
Kezar Stadium San Francisco
|But we didn’t notice our goose bumps. We were too busy checking out the other athletes (where did they all
come from?). Like the kids we never allowed ourselves to be, we were soon making new friends, sizing up the
caliber of competition, and networking with our alter egos.
The buzz was incessant, but it was a markedly ‘different’ banter for this group: “Where did you wrestle?
Who was coaching at Bakersfield? What weight would Blakeley compete at? How much weight did you
cut? Would Title IX kill Princeton’s program? When are the weigh-ins? “..etc… It was as if -everyone- was
finally speaking ‘my’ language, and I had finally found ‘my’ lost tribe!
As we were ushered into the stadium by ‘city’ for the ‘March of the Athletes’, I was handed one of the New
York City flags to lead Team NY’s athletes. We heard the ‘Olympic Theme’ (was it Chariots of Fire or the
other John Williams piece? I don’t remember), but a warm sun ominously exploded out from behind the
clouds, as if on queue, to announce the entry of gods into Valhalla. I vividly remember Tina Turner singing
on stage, and my crying profusely for no apparent reason. I had finally come ‘home’ after a very long exile.”
|Right before the opening of GGI, the United States Olympic Committee (USOC)
filed suit against SFAA, and got an injunction that forced SFAA to not use the word
“Olympic”, and to remove it from all materials. This was a terrible psychological blow
at the time, and it inflamed the community. In 1987, a month before Tom died, the US
Supreme Court ruled against SFAA, and backed the USOC’s position.
|By that time, SFAA was already morphing into the Federation of Gay Games (FGG), and by 1988, had incorporated
as a California 501c3 non-profit, located in the Castro. The FGG was to be an international organization, along the lines
of an International Olympic Committee (IOC), sans corruption. One of its first tasks was to deal with the issue of
‘Image and Mission’, given the angst caused by the USOC and the word ‘Olympic’. The adopted FGG principles of
“Inclusion, Participation, and Personal Best” were deemed to be inconsistent with the “Ageism, Exclusion, and
Elitism” of the ‘Olympic Movement’.
While it may still be a bitter pill for the community to swallow, the USOC did the FGG a favor, by forcing them to re-
examine their principles. Today, the FGG maintains a healthy working relationship with the USOC, and the ‘Gay Games
Movement’ is thankfully very different from the ‘Olympic Movement’.
GGII was also a qualified success. The specter of AIDS was everywhere, but so was denial. One of the few comic
incidents occurred when SFAA director Paul Mart, in an effort to sanitize the event, locked the contingent of ‘Sisters of
Perpetual Indulgence’ in a Kezar bathroom while they dressed, so that the media would not catch them on film. From a
budget of $375,000, GGII managed to eke out a $15,000 profit. During the closing ceremonies of GGII, plans were
already made for GGIII, with just a handshake between SFAA and Vancouver’s fledgling organization.
|The urgency for SFAA to divest the
event was telling. Tom was very sick.
During the wrestling competition,
Golden Gate WC coach Don Jung,
one of the original SFAA organizers,
was hospitalized. He was dead by
morning. It was as if the valiant
attempt to hold back the tide, and get
through GGII was just that. No
mention of Don’s death was made that
week, not even with the protests and
resignations of the sports co-chairs.
Denial was setting in big time. Within a
year, Tom, and some of the original
SFAA board, as well as scores of the
San Francisco volunteers and
competitors would be dead.
Gay Games I
|The New Community
|Closing ceremonies of GGII were literally the end of the era of optimism and the
beginning of a nightmare.
|In the years post GGI, the networking of those who ‘escaped’ AIDS facilitated the founding of many of the organizations
that have become the ‘NEW’ community. The first ‘Gay World Series’ coincided with GGI, and the softball leagues
have seen a dramatic increase in numbers since. Team San Francisco was founded as the ‘umbrella organization’ very
soon after GGII. Tsunami Swimmers, SF FrontRunners, SF Track & Field, SF HotShots BasketBall, SF
Spikes Soccer, the numerous bowling leagues, martial arts clubs, volleyball leagues, rowing clubs, hockey clubs, SF Fog
Rugby, and Golden Gate Wrestling, are just some that have emerged as the ‘NEW’ community options.
While the numbers of bars, dance clubs, and sex clubs have dwindled dramatically (even with a surge in the 'out'
community population), these athletic organizations have flourished, picking up the slack, and presenting new ‘positive’
community paradigms. Couple this with the proliferation of the ‘gyms’, the acceptance of healthier ‘life-styles, the
rejection of tobacco and alcohol, and it is not so hard to believe that today, -very- few of those ‘just coming out’ youths,
do so in a bar. The only negative, is that the community media still clings to the old stereotypes, and refuses to even
acknowledge the ‘New’ community, even with its huge numbers.
This is the legacy of Tom Waddell and the ‘Gay Games Movement’, the taking back of our birthright: Sports, and
using it to integrate our community back into the mainstream.
|About the Author
|Gene Dermody was born in Weehawken NJ 8 November 1948 and
raised in Carlstadt (South Bergen) NJ. He graduated from St. Peter’s
Prep Jersey City in 1966, earned his BA from NYU in 1970, and earned
his MA from Montclair State in 1975. He wrestled for NYU in 1966-
After doing a short stint as a research chemist for CONOCO, he taught
high school chemistry and physics from 1971 through 1982 in various
Bergen County NJ high schools (Paramus Catholic, Hawthorne, and
Leonia), where he was also the wrestling coach.
In 1982 he earned a bronze medal @ 136# in Gay Games I, and
proceeded to move to San Francisco to start a new life. With the death of
Don Jung in 1986, he took over the Golden Gate Wrestling Club.
Gene has lived in San Francisco’s Noe Valley since 1982.
A systems programmer, Gene has worked for various software
companies in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1983, and has been with
the Atlanta based Indus International/Ventyx ABB since 1991.
Gene reported on the Sydney 2000 Olympics Wrestling for About.
com. He has earned three more Gay Games medals, and earned the
Gold at Masters 86kg. in Sydney 2002 Gay Games VI at the ripe age of
54. Gene also served as President and Vice President of the
Federation of Gay Games (FGG), and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org .
|San Francisco 1982
Gay Games I
Open FreeStyle 136#