“Gay is a trigger word”: Questions of language, security, and sustainability for the 11th Gay Games in Hong Kong

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The Gay Games, a large international sporting and cultural LGBT+ event, established in the USA in the early 1980s, is coming to Asia (Hong Kong)
for the first time in its history. However, the Games, conceived in the West and defined by its core message of LGBT+ pride, is crossing into a space where recently mobilized discourses of national security, conceived to conform to the “traditional” political and social values of the Chinese government, appear to leave little room for the “public” celebration of queer lives and rights. For example, the upcoming event has been singled out by some politicians in the Hong Kong legislative council, as a “disgrace”, and a “danger” to national interests. As a result, the Gay Games has, over a short period of time, become entangled in current and competing socio- and geopolitical discourses of nationalism, security, and citizenship. In this paper, I address these tensions through an ethnographically grounded discourse analysis of interview data from
volunteers on the Hong Kong Games organizing committee. Specifically, I examine how the volunteers, in their organizational roles and capacities, grapple with these tensions as they seek to secure the support of the Hong Kong
government, local sporting bodies, and the public in general, building viability and security for the event in this way. These actions are primarily manifested in their talk via metapragmatic negotiations and reflections, geared towards the deployment of language strategies that downplay the “trigger effects” of the word “gay”, as Gender, Language & Sustainable Organisations (IGALA12) 43
enshrined in the “Gay Games” brand and in its association with liberal (and Western) rights-based identity politics. Such strategies include the rebranding of the event through the use of certain Chinese characters to ambiguate the (controversial in this context) politics of sexual identity and citizenship. Other strategies include the use of a more generalist (and safer) language to promote the Games, drawing on broadly defined concepts of “diversity and inclusivity” from the corporate world. Building on this analysis, the study therefore aims to shed light on the discursive reworking of the language LGBT+ pride to provide both securitization and sustainability for the Gay Games event, especially as it crosses over into new, and potentially less-welcoming


ConferenceThe 12th biennial conference of the International Gender and Language Association, IGALA12 2023
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