|SOURCE: SCREENSHOT CLAIMING THE TITLE
By B. Scott Levine, Attorney at Law
With the Summer Olympics taking place this month in London, it is fitting to remember that 25 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a San Francisco-based nonprofit did not have the right to use the word â€śOlympic,â€ť as in the Gay Olympic Games. The attorney who argued the case on behalf of the â€śGay Olympic Gamesâ€ť before the nationâ€™s highest court was Mary Dunlap. She was the first open lesbian to argue on behalf of a gay cause before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Dunlap told the Supreme Court Justices that the U.S. Olympic Committee was violating the constitutional rights of her client to equal protection under the law by prohibiting it from using or promoting the Gay Olympic Games. It is interesting to note that U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker, now famous for striking down Prop 8, was the lead attorney for the U.S. Olympic Committee before he became a judge.
Indeed, the U.S. Olympic Committee allowed the use of the word â€śOlympicâ€ť by other organizations that sponsor athletic competitions, such as the â€śSpecial Olympicsâ€ť for disabled persons and â€śJunior Olympicsâ€ť for youth. The Gay Olympic Games was co-founded by Dr. Tom Waddell in 1982. Dr. Waddell himself competed in the decathlon at the Olympic Games in 1968. He was the Chief Physician at San Francisco Central Emergency facility until shortly before his death in 1987 from AIDS-related complications.
The Gay Olympic Games were to be a 9-day event to begin in August 1982. There was to be a relay of over 2000 runners who would carry the â€śGay Olympic Torchâ€ť from New York City to Kezar Stadium in San Francisco. Prior to the event, the U.S. Olympic Committee obtained an injunction prohibiting the gay sporting group from using the word â€śOlympic.â€ť Dr. Waddell, who was friends with Mary Dunlapâ€”already a well-known and respected legal advocate for the rights of LGBT personsâ€”got her to challenge what seemed like an obvious injustice before the U.S. Supreme Court. Mary was certainly up for the challenge.
I had the privilege of being taught by Mary when I was a law student at the University of San Francisco School of Law. Mary was gifted, with a brilliant legal mind and a passion for justice. Unfortunately, these gifts were not enough to persuade the Supreme Court, which upheld the ban on the use of the name â€śGay Olympic Games.â€ť
However, Mary understood that the fight for equal rights is won with only diligence and commitment over the long term. While this particular case was lost, it helped to give the issue of discrimination against the LGBT community national attention. Sadly, Mary died from pancreatic cancer in 2003 at the age of 54. Her lifeâ€™s work in fighting for fairness and equality for our community continues to impact us today and we are better for it.
The Gay Games took place as scheduled in 1982, and still bring athletes together from all over the world every four years, albeit without the use of the word â€śOlympicâ€ť in its title. In the years since the lawsuit, the Olympics and the Gay Games have set aside their initial hostilities and worked cooperatively together, successfully lobbying to have HIV travel restrictions waived for the 1994 Gay Games in New York and the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. In the 25 years since the Supreme Court decision, the Gay Games have become the worldâ€™s largest sporting and cultural event organized by and specifically for LGBT athletes, artists, musicians, and others.