In November 2019, Melbourne resident Christian Rantzau was diagnosed with a tumour in his brain. Three months later, he was at the International Gay and Lesbian Aquatic (IGLA) Championships at Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre, where he won a gold, silver and bronze medals.
IGLA 2020 concluded on Tuesday with Pink Flamingo – a swimming pageantry and drag show in the water . In the midst of all the fun, camaraderie, competition rivalries, wins and losses at the six-day event, there were also stories of courage, resistance, and breaking of barriers.
“Up until last week I didn’t even know if I could swim here. Over the last three years, I have had some major health issues (a cancer diagnosis and then the brain tumour) but I kept swimming as much as I could,” says Rantzau, who underwent surgery in January 2020.
More than anything, getting back in the pool was a way to prove to himself that he could do it.
“I just love swimming and I couldn’t imagine not doing it. Sports is one of the best ways to engage with the community. It certainly helps with young people who are coming out, but also older people, women and persons with disabilities.”
Rantzau has been swimming with the Glamourhead Sharks for the better part of the last two decades. “We work hard with our club to ensure that we can engage with all segments of the LGBTIQ + community. One of the wonderful things about IGLA is that it certainly is an environment where you will be supported and loved.”
That was definitely the case for 34-year-old Hani Ghazi, who swims with the Glamourheads and represented Palestine at IGLA.
“It is important to show visibility of Arab and Muslim countries in LGBTQ events. If you look at the array of flags (at the event), most countries are European, North American, Australian and some are Latin American. It was important for me to have representation of the Arab world.
“People dismiss the Palestinian struggle because they assume that most Arab and Muslim countries are homophobic, and sympathise with their oppressors because they are gay friendly. That is what I call pink washing.
“I am here to shatter that stereotype, resist and show that there is LGBT organizing in our communities. I want more gay Palestinians to come out, I want them to feel encouraged to represent at international events, to build solidarity and acknowledgement for Palestine.”
Ghazi draws similarities between the struggles of the Australian indigenous community and Palestinians, both of whom were dispossessed from their lands.
“This is a form of activism, of defiance and at tying it with queer, indigenous, and Palestinian resistance,” adds Ghazi.
On the second day of the event, all the buzz at IGLA 2020 was around Dorothy Dickey who turns 90 next month. Dickey had just set a world record in the 1500 metres women’s freestyle category in the 90-94 age group, shaving off around two and a half minutes from the previous record.
“Age is not a barrier,” Dickey, who swims for the Doncaster Dolphins, proclaims cheerfully. Though she swam as a child, Dickey credits her daughter for reintroducing her to swimming when she turned 56 – and, there was no looking back as she participated in national and international meets.
“Swimming is my life. It is exciting because I have made a lot of new friends who are younger than me. You don’t have to keep up with them but they sort of include you which is really nice,” says Dickey, who has already set her next target – the FINA World Aquatic Championships to be held in Japan in July 2021.
Melbourne’s only LGBTI swimming club, Glamourhead Sharks, and Victoria’s only LGBTI and inclusive water polo club, Melbourne Surge, joined forces to create Melbourne 2020, a not-for-profit dedicated to bringing IGLA to the city.
Over 600 competitors from 16 countries competed in swimming, diving, water polo and open water swimming events for top honours.
“It was an opportunity for us to show that we can put up a really good event in Melbourne (for LGBTI and friends of the community)… and that diversity comes in all forms,” says Alan Shepherd, co-president of Melbourne 2020.
The next IGLA Championships will be held in Salt Lake City in May 2021.