Sydney Gaymers: Meet The First LGBT Gaming Group To March In The Sydney Mardi Gras


When Joshua Meadows moved to Sydney from the bright lights of New York City, the only person he knew was his partner who moved over with him. Joshua, a gamer, craved a social circle he could call his own, and right after his residency visa cleared, Joshua joined a group for gay, lesbian and transgender games called Sydney Gaymers. Little did he know, he'd just joined a community that he would go on to lead as it grew exponentially in its membership in the next 12 months. Now, on the precipice of its first anniversary, the group has over 400 loyal members and is preparing to march as the first group of gamers in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade, with a float sponsored by gaming heavyweights like Valve, Sony and NCSoft.

Sydney Gaymers was forged out of a desire to create a safe space for the city's (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and queer and intersex (LGBTQI) community). Somewhere they could come together, away from the derogatory trash talk and insults of typical gaming communities and into a welcoming environment. The environment they created was so safe that members have joined who are still "in the closet" to their friends and family. This is the story of the Sydney Gaymers, who bonded over video games with a dream to take it to Mardi Gras.

***

Sydney Gaymers was founded less than a year ago by a then-17 year old who wanted to play Magic: The Gathering at a pub with a few friends. The original founder is no longer at the head of the organisation, but he comes to meetings and still loves every minute. The organisation is now steered by four "admins" who try to get everyone together around twice per month for a hugely diverse gaming session. One of those admins is Joshua, the very same gaymer that joined the group in a search for likeminded friends he could play games with.

"Everyone has a really diverse set of interests. We have a Nintendo DS group who play together, MMO fans, console gamers and people who just like board games. We try at every meet to cater to the diversity of interests in our group. We have consoles available and we even set up some tabletop games so that people can experiment with different games they haven't played before," Joshua explains.

All of the equipment used at the meetings is provided by admins, members and friends of the Sydney Gaymers to make the meetings as diverse as possible. The community was founded as a way for LGBT gamers to feel safe with like-minded people in a way that they might not have felt safe doing before with others.

"I don't think anyone would disagree with the fact that the worldwide gaming community does...enable some pretty nasty harassment," Joshua tells me. Even though he's on the phone at the other end of a city, I nod my head in agreement. All you need to do is log onto Call of Duty multiplayer to find that gay isn't considered as a lifestyle to some gamers, it's an insult.

Joshua explains that some in the LGBT community put down their controllers, card decks and cosplay outfits years ago because they didn't want to go near the venom of the greater gaming community for fear of reprisals about their sexual orientation.

"There would be [more LGBT] people interested in gaming if they weren't turned off by a hostile environment," he explains. "They're not willing to experiment with games because they know they will be subject to language they don't want to be subjected to just for playing a game."

Despite the homophobic trash talk thrown around team chat, however, Joshua explains that women actually cop the most abuse in gaming from online misogynists.

"So many women I know are uncomfortable playing Call Of Duty because they get comments about 'going back to the kitchen', along with unwanted sexual advances, so it's not just something the LGBT community has to deal with. It's far-reaching.

"I know people get amped up playing these games, and trash talk is totally going to happen. It's only natural, but when that crosses the line to harassment and derogatory comments about someone's gender or sexual orientation, that's what discourages new people from picking up controllers to join in," Joshua explains.

My nodding is reaching fever pitch now. This is why Sydney Gaymers is so important.

"There are people in our group who aren't even out to their families, and this is the only place they can be comfortable without fearing reprisal. That's such a great thing for young people to have."

And he's absolutely right. These communities are so important, especially when the suicide rate of people in the LGBT community is reaching epidemic proportions.

Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler, said in 2011 that "the LGBTI community reports higher levels of depression, anxiety and other mental health problems with evidence suggesting they are 3.5 to 14 times more likely to attempt suicide than the general community", announcing a raft of new mental health and suicide prevention programs for the LGBT community.

Sydney Gaymers represents more than just a group of folks who want to play games. It's about safety. Safety in numbers, safety with like-minded people, and a safe space to live your life without fear of reprisals.

"We represent a safe space for people to meet new like-minded people, and now we want to make our existence known to everyone we can," Joshua tells me.

***

In September last year, Sydney Gaymers led by its four group admins decided it was time to reach out to the greater LGBT community to show them what the group was about. They decided that it was the best time to join the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras 2013 parade as a way of reaching out to more people who need a community of their own.

"The admins decided that the big objective here was to grow the group. It was important to have a presence in the parade for us. At the moment [our float] is primarily funded through raising donations within the group and new members and from some corporate sponsors."


Serious sponsors on board with the Sydney Gaymers include heavyweights like Valve. Other sponsors include Sony Online Entertainment and NCSoft/ArenaNet.

Valve is by far one of the most impressive sponsors of the Sydney Gaymers float, donating the last replica Portal gun signed by the dev team and Valve kingpin, Gabe Newell. The Valve merch and the Portal gun were delivered along with a card that read simply: "Dear Joshua, Valve Loves You".

Joshua honestly didn't expect this level of support.

"These companies have have donated, very generously, several boxes of items that they allow us to raffle off and give away to encourage people to show up to events. When Valve donated one of the lifesize Portal guns — of which only 5000 were made worldwide — I was blown away because I expected just a box of t-shirts or something. I was astonished.

"All of those companies have gone above and beyond what we even asked for. We're happy to have their names on our organisation and our float as having given donations. Some companies shy away from things like that for fear of attracting complaints, so I was happy they sponsored us," Joshua said beaming.

On top of awesome sponsor efforts, Sydney Gaymers recently took to setting up a stall at the Fair Day festival and raffling off other sweet gaming merch.


The Sydney Gaymers' float will feature around 100 members of the community — about one quarter of them all up — with a float that is designed to look like someone's bedroom. Everyone is busy paper maché-ing the float so it's ready for parade night.

When the float sets sail for the parade, a few people will be sit atop the float playing video games on mounted TVs to promote the community and attract more members. Only a few people will be on the float itself, but the rest will be girting dressed in video game cosplay and Sydney Gaymers shirts as they traverse the parade route.

Despite the fact that only 100 members can march, hundreds more are coming to watch and support their community.


"It's inspiring to see how many people can actually march with us. We have people all over New South Wales and it's inspiring how many people commute out from places like Woolongong (x km away) [to join us]. They travel for the camaraderie we share."

Sydney Gaymers is holding an event to raise money for its Mardi Gras float, with a limited-edition Portal gun set to be raffled off as a prize. To find out more, head to their website.

Images: Sydney Gaymers/Joshua Meadows


Comments

    Good on them, sounds like they're doing some great work to make a comfortable environment for people. And without detracting from groups like this in the slightest, I hope someday they won't be necessary.

    I've travelled up from Canberra for a couple of their events, and got my arse whooped at SSBB, the least pretentious group of gays I've ever met and some of the most fun gamers to be around too, wishing them all the best for mardi gras, and for creating such an awesome community for the LGBT gamers, it's really impressive!

      the irony is that in the straight community, the same issues relating to misogyny, abusive attitudes etc exist for everyone else as well

      we dont have any groups dedicated to providing an enjoyable friendly community for gaming, because any asshole can join and ruin it

      theres nothing uniquely common to tie everyone together. no "cause". and youd only just get trolled if you did try to set something up with that goal in mind

      Last edited 15/02/13 4:44 pm

    Awesome initiative from the team. Everyone should be welcome within the tech and gaming communities.

    Anyone notice straight people don't throw parades about being straight, we just accept it?

      Ever notice how straight people don't have a history of being discriminated against?

        Ever notice how events like Mardi gras etc give this discriminating more ammunition ? Better to scrap Mardi gras and focus resources on achieving goals.

          No I haven't actually. I did notice thousands of people having a great time and not hurting anybody. If the Mardi Gras gives discriminators more ammunition, then it's obviously a problem with the discriminators, not the people they're discriminating against.

            If you say so. I can tell you as a gay man every year the Mardi gras is held and the cause is set back every time. It's fine to go along and enjoy yourself. But you are a hypocrite if you then stand on the steps of Parliament House and scream for equality. How can you expect equality when you flaunt how different you are. So yeah it might be fun but it does more harm than good.

              When you flaunt how different you are? Wow, I'm sorry. I thought the point of equality was that it shouldn't matter how you identify, your gender, age, race, whether you want to wear a business suit, mickey mouse shirt, or a glittery purple tutu out in public... we all deserve to be respected. You can't offer someone equality with the stipulation 'only if you conform to the norms'.

                I'm afraid conforming to norms is what society is about. Not going about murdering people... is about conforming to norms. That is an extreme example, but the gist is the same.

                Society works because there is a set of rules (not laws) that the majority agree with and follow. Right now, society is saying being gay is okay and is integrating that culture into our wider culture so that it is a considered a NORM and thus is not discriminated against.

                Also, we don't all deserve to be respected either. You earn respect, it is not simply given. Just because you were born, does not entitle you to automatic respect. That is the problem with the youth today, entitlement. Flaunting how different you are, is the role of superstars and celebrities. And they do it for sales and that's all, you can believe otherwise, but that is the reality. Gaga does not really care about you, she loved singing, found a gimmick that worked with the public, and is now exploiting that gimmick. I'll note here that we all start doing things we love, but we all grow up and eventually our talents become a business.

                Equality is not about chaos (doing and acting how you want). Equality is about living a good life with equal opportunity, it is not about thinking you can act how you want, and do what you want in public and in front of other people. It still has to conform with societies rules of decency and respect. That's the problem with some people, they do not realize the true essence of equality.

                To put it into a hard to digest sentence (not referring to mardi gras here - in general) : Dressing up as a gay slut in a tight speedo, french-kissing your boyfriend (combined with a good ass grope) in front of a group of elderly people, who were brought up in more conservative society... is just being an arsehole and shows lack of respect (and frankly a low self esteem.) You don't do something just because you can, the difference, is knowing that you can do it if you wanted to.

                  What a ramble, true equality is only achieved when we conform to the majorities views? Mob rule anyone?

                  You don't murder people because you conform to the norm? or because you're personal belief is that it is wrong?

                  In case you haven't connected the dots "gay is ok" is only a thing because gay men and women dressed up as "sluts" in speedos and french kissed their boyfriends/girlfriends in front of the oldies.

                  Equality isn't earned by grovelling at the feet of your oppressor. Hoping that if you look and act like them enough they will toss you a bone every 400 years. Equality is earned by shouting, calling out bullsh*t when you see it and DEMANDING equal representation under the law. It has to be personal. It has to be drag queens and arseless chaps. We have to trigger an emotional response so strong that their own shame overrides their ability to depersonalise from their response. If you want roast chicken you have to ruffle some feathers first.

                  It's not just our freedoms we fight for - it's everyone's freedoms. It's the freedom for an effeminate straight man not to be the victim of a "gay bashing" just because he looks a little bit out of place.

                  You want to know who the real setbacks are - it's not the "dykes on bikes" - it's the thousands of gay men and women who sit in church on a Sunday and don't have the gonads to stand up and flip the tables when the lunatics have clearly taken over the asylum.

                  In the business of changing minds silence is death.

                That's my point... Mardi Gras... "Hey everybody, we're gay, look how happy we are! Come on, look, you can't deny it, we're gay!!! We're happy!!!"
                Look, be homosexual, that's fine, but you don't need a whole parade to rub it in everyone's face. If you call that good taste, AND expect to be treated fairly, I'm sorry. Which goes back to my point, straight people don't go running around the street yelling "Look at me, I'm straight, look how awesome I am, look how much fun I'm having, look at my nice blue jeans and wife beater!"
                You'll find that most hate directed at homosexuals from heterosexuals is simply because they like to rub it in our faces, because they think that this "coming out of the closet" idea has to be like a grand entrance to a gala ball.

                  I know right! the nerve of them to expect a PARADE on one night!

                  300 000+, predominantly straight people, cram in to have it "rubbed in their face"....
                  Thanks for the dissertation on the causes of homophobia, but I think it indirectly illustrated the primary cause- ignorance.

                  300,000+ predominantly straight people? have you gone around and surveyed every single one of them to work out your lovely assumed statistics?

                  I don't understand what exactly you think is being "rubbed" in your face. When you look at something like mardi gras I encourage you to focus on the PASSION people have for each other. If you see someone wearing or doing something that makes you uncomfortable reflect on the fact that it meant so much to someone that they once went to war over it. Risked their lives. For real.

                  Straight people often don't realise that EVERY day is their parade - marriages, procreation, not having to worry about whether introducing your partner to your colleagues could cost you your job.

      If you want a straight pride parade, go ahead and have it, nobody's stopping you.

        Wouldn't work. Straight people get arrested for indecent exposure :/

        :P

        Last edited 17/02/13 8:38 am

        I see you like furries.

          Indeed I do, I would suppose you do as well?

          Last edited 19/02/13 12:52 am

            Naa, I'm indifferent to them, but I they are amusing. I used to draw them for one of my friends who had a bit of a fetish when I was still in high school. That was about 18 year ago, lol! They've been around a long time!

              Oh yeah, centuries even! The difference is that the actual name "furry" didn't exist until around the 70s.

        No, because if we did people would think we were queer. Straight people don't feel the need to go round rubbing their normality into everyone else's face.

    I really don't get this. If these guys don't want to be treated any differently then they should stop making groups like this that are asking for them to be treated differently.

    You play games, so you're a gamer. I don't care what your sexual persuasion is, and neither should you. It has no bearing on whether you play games or not. So you may experience some language you find offensive...so what? Just about everybody does and if you say you don't, you are probably lying. You just learn to shrug it off.

      My take on it is that the group isn't looking to be treated differently. They exist to provide a particular environment for their group members to play in - in this case free of sexist or homophobic derogatory comments that are rife in public gaming - for the comfort of their members. It's not a matter of segregation, it's just a matter of creating a comfortable environment. In that sense it's no different to someone making a group specifically for RPG gamers, and using that group to create a friendly environment where they can all immerse themselves in RPGs with like-minded friends.

      I can't speak for anyone in the group, but I think for many they'd be just as happy if mainstream gaming didn't have the sexist and homophobic problems that it has. But it does, and as long as it does and some people aren't comfortable with it, what would you prefer - they give up gaming altogether, or they get together with like-minded people to create an environment in which they can game without having to deal with those problems?

        Pretty much spot on!

        Yes spot on indeed!!

        Plus to meet potential love interests as well. Being a straight gamer can be a bastard finding love - I can only imagine what finding a partner is like when you are gay AND a gamer!

      There are Girl Gamer groups, Mature Gamer groups, Noob Gamer groups, and all sorts of other sub-interest gamer groups around. I don't think Gaymers are any more offensive or segregating than those other groups.

      Sometimes people just want to be able to grind in The Barrens without having to deal with Barrens Chat.

        P.S. Stop saying "gaymers" everyone, you'll get us all sued!
        http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2013/01/gaymer-trademark-has-to-go-say-reddits-gay-gamers/

    Pretty cool story. But there are dozens of 400+ gamer groups, they are are not something special. Society just kicks them a hand, because they are gay and sensationalism gets hits - thus advertising.

    Last edited 18/02/13 2:15 pm

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