Telum celebrates Pride Month with David Ko from the Gay Games
In November, the annual Gay Games will be held in Hong Kong and Mexico's Guadalajara for the very first time. This comes a year after it was postponed due to the global pandemic. To celebrate Pride Month and learn more about this international sports, arts and culture summit, Telum spoke with David Ko, Director of Marketing & Communications for the Gay Games.
David, who is also RFI Asia's Managing Director, gives us a glimpse into the planning and communications strategy behind this event. This is the first time that the Gay Games will be held in Asia and Latin America since its inception in 1982. How significant is this for both the event and what it represents?
It's incredibly significant because this is also the first time that the Games are being co-hosted by two cities. When the Gay Games were founded in 1982, it was a very small event in San Francisco. Throughout most of its history, the Games have been mostly held in North America and Europe. But for Asia, this is something that's very different. It's groundbreaking in the sense that it is a sports event, but it's also an arts and culture event.
For a global event of this scale to be hosted by the LGBTQ community, and also welcome people from everywhere, is something very new for Asia. We're excited because we're really blazing a trail here. We're bringing a lot of new things to Asia, and our hope is that our influence and legacy extends beyond November of this year.
To be frank, we think Asia and the world needs it. I was a moderator at a conference hosted by the Gay Games called "Diversity in Sports" in Hong Kong and people were saying they are observing a global pendulum swing back to conservatism. For example, the backlash against transgender people happening in the US right now. This mission that we're all on to educate the world and recruit allies to the LGBTQ community is becoming urgent.
We really, truly feel that we have something very important that we all need to achieve here.
Tell us about how you got involved in the Gay Games.
I joined at the start of 2020, when we were starting to accelerate the event’s marketing. It was also at that time that I noticed whenever you become high profile, you also run into opposition when talking about an event of this scale. Of course, the LGBTQ community is no stranger to opposing voices.
The great thing about working through these adversities is it helps to increase our profile. Each time we get challenged publicly, it is extremely gratifying to hear all the voices of support that rise up to encourage us to plough on. And each time, we've had overwhelming and tremendous positive feedback from those that want to help us.
There's a lot going on and the team works very, very hard. The most amazing thing is we're all volunteers. No one is paid, so everyone is doing business as a side job, which can get very overwhelming. But the fact that we're on a runway towards an event that will take off in November really galvanises us. We know that there's a reward at the end of it.
You have previously described Hong Kong as a "city of contrasts". What makes it the perfect host city, alongside its co-host Guadalajara in Mexico?
Hong Kong is globally known as a very urban city filled with skyscrapers and dense neighbourhoods. But there's another side of Hong Kong that's filled with natural beauty. Many don't know that 70 per cent of Hong Kong's total land area is rural country park greenery. This contrast makes for an interesting event, because a lot of our sports events are held in the countryside.
There's also a heritage edge to Hong Kong. It holds on to a lot of its Chinese culture and traditions that go back thousands of years. This is especially true if you think about dragon boating for example, which was added to the Gay Games roster especially for this year's event.
When it comes to LGBTQ awareness and rights, Hong Kong is also very interesting. Hong Kong has virtually no hate crime. You will not be attacked or encounter violence if you openly express yourself as a queer person. You can hold hands anywhere in Hong Kong with your partner and people will not interfere with you. There's a lot of tolerance and acceptance there.
On the other hand, Hong Kong is somewhat restrictive when it comes to recognising the legal rights of people in the queer community. A lot of organisations like Hong Kong Marriage Equality are fighting to get marriage equality legally recognised in Hong Kong. So that is also a reason why we all feel this sense of mission and urgency to educate the public here in Hong Kong and across Asia, and to level the playing field for a lot of queer people.
The theme of this year's Games is "Unity in Diversity". What does it mean to you personally, and how has that influenced your comms strategy going into this?
Diversity is about recognising that we live in a world today where people are different, and those differences are becoming a lot more obvious. This extends not just to things you can see, for example, race, gender, but also differences that you cannot, such as sexual preference, income level, ideology or politics.
Now that we live in an increasingly diverse world, let's not let that divide or weaken us as a human race. Let's look at how we can derive strength from it instead. I believe that LGBTQ communities play a role in this, because we are ourselves a group that has come through a long history of marginalisation and "othering". We have overcome this, risen above it, and become very strong.
In many parts of the world, the LGBTQ community is very organised and united. That's why we always try to help people understand that the Gay Games is not just for gay people, it's for everyone. We believe that sports is a strong, unifying force. Playing a sport is all about the process of moving towards better performance or excellence. It doesn't matter where you come from or what nationality you are.
The arts and culture aspects of the Gay Games includes exhibitions, entertainment and musical performances featuring international, regional and local artists and singers. These are also things that celebrate diversity - creativity is all about entertaining different ideas. When you think about it, the sport, arts and culture are all elements of the human condition that bind us together and allow us to not be distracted by the differences that we commonly talk about.
In my role as Director of Marketing & Communications, the biggest challenge is helping people understand this concept. This is the single priority for us in the comms team - helping people to understand that, despite the event's name, these are the games for all.
For us, it's more important to recruit more allies versus reaching more LGBTQ people, because they are already on the bus. It's the allies, or potential allies, who normally don't think about queer issues but want to be kind and caring, and want to make a difference in the world but may not understand that there is a huge opportunity for them to do so. These are the people we want to recruit. The marketing and comms team achieves this by trying to get as many people as possible aware of the Gay Games, encourage them to come to Hong Kong and participate in November.
Can you run us through your team's planning process? What goes into orchestrating an event of this magnitude?
The initial phase was getting the team resources organised and plans laid out, figuring out who the stakeholders are and figuring out the top priorities at an execution level.
Within the volunteer group, we have the marketing and comms team, the events team that covers the opening and closing ceremonies as well as a lot of the entertainment events, and the sports team which organises all the different sports. They get all the logistics sorted and help to market the Games as well, so we work with them to get people excited about the different sports.
We also have the fundraising teams and other support teams. Our job is to ensure there are marketing and comms plans to support them all and react to any unexpected challenges from a communications front.
There's a lot of behind-the-scenes logistical work the marketing team is involved in. We are involved in almost every aspect of the operation of the Games and have a very active newsletter, a podcast, and social media presence.
What's the best way for PR, comms and media practitioners to get involved with the Games?
Participation is definitely important. Go ahead and form a team, whether it's dragon boating, open water swimming, even mahjong. Individual participation is welcomed as well.
Rallying colleagues to join is also important. This event is a way for colleagues to come together and do something fun. We work closely with the Google team who is already forming internal teams to participate in dodge ball, dragon boating and mahjong.
We're also seeking media partnerships. We have several media partnerships that are in discussions right now with global media organisations, and we're talking with several local and regional media organisations.
To anybody who wants to support by helping us promote the Games, we're very open to any kind of assistance.
Regular email alerts featuring the latest news and moves from the media industry across Asia Pacific
Enjoy exclusive daily interviews with senior journalists and PRs as well as in-house editorial and features from the Telum team