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Friday, July 18, 2014

No Holds Barred: Gene Dermody on Wrestling and Grappling at 2014 Gay Games 

On this edition of No Holds Barred, host Eddie Goldman spoke with Gene Dermody, the "Godfather of LGBT wrestling" and the founder of Wrestlers WithOut Borders (WWB).

Wrestlers WithOut Borders, according to its web site, is "a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion and development of the noble Olympic wrestling sports of Freestyle Wrestling, Greco-Roman Wrestling, Beach Wrestling, and Non-Gi Grappling, as defined by WWB & FILA."

They will once again be organizing the wrestling and grappling competition at Gay Games 9.

Freestyle wrestling and no-gi grappling at Gay Games 9 will take place August 11-13 at Case Western Reserve University in the Horsburgh Gymnasium, 2138 Adelbert Road, Cleveland, Ohio 44106. Wrestling is the only sport that has been officially sanctioned in every Gay Games since their inception in 1982, while this is the first year in which there will be no-gi grappling competition.

For Gene Dermody, who is now 65, the wrestling at the Gay Games literally changed his life. Then a tenured school teacher living in New York, and a former college wrestler at NYU, he wrestling in Gay Games I in 1982 in San Francisco. The experience so moved him that he stayed in San Francisco, has wrestled in every Gay Games since, and plans to compete at Gay Games 9, in what will be his last appearance on the mat.

In recognition of all that he has accomplished, the Federation of Gay Games has selected him as one of two winners of the prestigious Tom Waddell Award, named in memory of the founder of the Gay Games, which is the highest honor bestowed by the Federation of Gay Games. The other winner is Elvina Yuvakaeva, a Russian sports activist, the female co-president of the Russian LGBT Sports Federation where she is in charge of international relations, and the chair of the Russian Open Games, the first international LGBT multisport tournament in her country.

We spoke with Gene Dermody by phone Thursday.

Recalling the growth of the Gay Games, which are held every four years, he said, Gay Games IV, which took place in New York in 1994, "was like a watershed event for Gay Games wrestling, and Gay Games in general."

That year the Gay Games wrestling was held at NYU.

"For me, going back to NYU -- I wrestled for NYU. This was my alma mater," he said.

"It was the first time we had had women's wrestling. This was ten years before the Olympic Committee put in women's wrestling, in Athens."

He continued, "It was a very, very competitive event, as most of the officials who they had gotten there would attest to."

While the ensuing years have seen greater and greater acceptance of LGBT athletes, there is still work to be done by organizations whose members are primarily LGBT. And there are also still many LGBT athletes who have not publicly come out.

"Our job, at Wrestlers WithOut Borders, is to create these clubs, to create the visibility, to create the comfort zone, so that eventually they will come out," he said.

We also discussed numerous topics, including how USA Wrestling at its competitions and events has been very supportive of and fair to LGBT wrestlers, and is sanctioning the wrestling and grappling at Gay Games 9. In addition, we discussed the many benefits of wrestling, how his work in San Francisco has helped develop wrestling in many schools and communities, the rules of the wrestling and grappling at the Gay Games, how the Gay Games are unlike the Olympics and are instead aimed mainly at getting recreational athletes to compete, why he expects grappling at the Gay Games to become bigger than the freestyle wrestling competition, and much, much more.

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