Sports Complex

Blades on Ice: Figure Skaters Focus on New Tournaments

Jim Provenzano | December 20, 2004

Dennis Palaganas at the 2003 New Year Invitational, in Ashburn, Va. – Photo by Star Light Studios
Ask any lesbian or gay figure skater about the growth in their sport, and you're likely to hear more about the ever-changing rules and regulations than about issues of sexuality.

That's because GLBT skaters have made so much progress in the sport and are now part of larger clubs and unions while developing their own GLBT-inclusive events.

Part of this movement is the International Gay Figure Skating Union (IGFSU), co-chaired by Laura Moore and Bradley Erickson, both of New York. IGFSU was recently elected to a second four-year term as Organizational Director of the Federation of Gay Games.

In order to hold competitive skating events, sanctions from governing bodies need to be acquired. The IGFSU works with associations such as the Ice Skating Institute (ISI) but the more prestigious International Skating Union (ISU) has resisted allowing sanctions for skating events that include same-sex pairs as competitors. At events featuring American skaters held over the past few years, sanctions were more easily obtained from the United States Figure Skating Association (USFSA).

A Bay Area GLBT group, SkateOut, has held annual events in San Francisco since 2000. Organized by Thom Mullins, who is also a skater, SkateOut's recently produced "One Voice, a Cabaret on Ice" featured live singers and skating. The group is also planning a 2005 Challenge Cup (June 25-28, 2005), large ensemble routines for dozens of skaters, and weekly practices for future competitions.

The upcoming Fabulous Cup in Cologne, Germany (June 2005), Chicago's Gay Games VII (July 15-26, 2006), and Montreal's OutGames (July 27-Aug. 2, 2006) will draw GLBT figure skaters from around the world. Gay figure skater Rudy Galindo was named an ambassador to Gay Games VII, while gay Canadian skater Brian Orser has endorsed OutGames.

Some skaters maintain a more independent status in mainstream skating, like Dennis Palaganas, a Maryland-based competitive skater and software developer with degrees in mathematics. Although one of few out skaters in his area, Palaganas doesn't consider that a problem.

"I don't feel that there is any pressure to remain in the closet or worry about repercussions for being out," says Palaganas. "The atmosphere is relaxed, so while it's OK to be out, the focus of conversation is on skating, which is great. I've never felt pressure to hide who I am."

When asked if his extensive math background relates to his skating, Palaganas says one of the things that attracted him to the sport was the arcane scoring system. "It was always interesting to look at the ordinals results and to figure out how close a competition was or what the consequences would have been if one judge had changed her/his mind," says Palaganas. "The new Code of Points has replaced the old scoring system, and as such the charm of the old system is gone."

For most out GLBT skaters, the increased number of competitors in the adult figure skating category has opened up more opportunities for participation. The sport uses different tests and competition levels for adults, younger competitors, and elite skaters. The adult category offers opportunities for older beginners.

"The ISU is just beginning to recognize the economic value of adult skaters," says Moore. The first ISU Adult World Competition will take place this summer.

Same-sex pairs figure skating, however, is still a concern for GLBT skaters, as it's not allowed under ISU rules. Moore spearheaded the efforts to have figure skating included at the Gay Games as far back as 1994 at New York's Games (where she also competed). Waivers were obtained to allow male and female pairs to compete.

At Gay Games V in 1998, Dutch organizers failed to get such a waiver from the ISU. That led to a last-minute court case. Amsterdam's Games held a controversial "public practice" where only participant - but not competitive - medals were awarded.

Sydney's Gay Games almost suffered a similar problem, until the IGFSU stepped in to help get a different international group, the ISI, to sanction the event.

For Chicago's 2006 Gay Games VII, no such problems are anticipated, because the IGFSU has played a role in changing the rules.

"There were two specific issues that we have improved over the Gay Games VI format," says Erickson. "Same-sex partners are now a given with ISI. It is written directly into their rules. Though this consideration is generally made for young female skaters who can't find male partners, we are definitely the benefactors. This format of events will be used at Gay Games VII."

Montreal's OutGames, scheduled two weeks after Gay Games VII, has a sanction from Skate Canada. But they will also need to get approval from an international skating group for non-Canadian skaters to qualify in all categories and for their scores to be added to their records. Breaking such rules can result in disqualification for competitors.

"Time will tell if the ISU will allow skaters from countries other than Canada to participate," says Moore. "As long as the competition does not follow ISU rules, it is highly unlikely that they will."

Erickson remains hopeful. "It's just a question of how to achieve everything on their agenda."

Palaganas, who is still deciding which event to take part in, supports the idea of GLBT events, but has found a level of comfort and success in Adult Nationals competitions.

"While gay skaters are definitely out, and their presence is felt both on and off the ice, being gay is not the focus," he says. "Gay skaters are simply themselves, as the straight skaters are. We come together to share our passion for skating."

Jim Provenzano is the author of the novels PINS and Monkey Suits. Read more sports articles at www.sportscomplex.org

Related stories
Johannesburg in bid for Gay Games 2010 [13/12/2004]
Sporty Splice: The Best Gay Sports Films
For more info on Gay Sport in South Africa contact Gay Sport SA



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