West Hollywood City Councilmember John Heilman flew to the Paris Gay Games with a purpose. A long-time activist with various LGBT organizations, Heilman used his participation in the Games to raise awareness and funds for OutRight Action International. This year’s edition of the quadrennial event marks the fifth time he has appeared as a competitor.
A running enthusiast, Heilman competed on August 11, the last day of the Gay Games, and finished in 17th place in his age group in the half-marathon. He did a final outreach on the night of August 11 to push past the $15,000 that he had already raised.
The Los Angeles Blade caught up with Heilman in Paris on the day before he competed.
Los Angeles Blade: Let’s talk about sports first. Did you play any sports growing up in Cleveland?
John Heilman: No, not really. I became a little bit more interested in athletics as I got older and I started running a little bit, started playing volleyball. I played volleyball at the Gay Games in San Francisco, New York, Vancouver and Cleveland.
Blade: It must have been a great experience to go home to Cleveland to compete.
Heilman: It was nice. It was fun because I played with somebody who was a good friend from high school. Being back there, playing in the Gay Games was just really magical for us.
Blade: You kind of rolled your eyes when I asked about sports, but it sounds like you’ve been involved all along.
Heilman: Yeah, but not when I was young, not when I was a kid.
Blade: For these Games you switched from volleyball to running and you are doing it for a cause, OutRight Action International.
Heilman: I love volleyball and I would play it in a heartbeat, but you have to really play regularly, and you have to have a team. It’s hard with my schedule to have that kind of structure and running you can do on your own at any time. I’ve run a lot of marathons for AIDS Project Los Angeles and other organizations, so I thought, “Well, that’s something I can do,” and it’s easy to just sign up for it. I’m on the board of OutRight, and I said, “Why don’t I use it to support a good cause?” And obviously, the games themselves are an incredible event, an incredible bringing together of the LGBTQ community and allies.
Blade: How did you end up living in the Los Angeles area?
Heilman: I went to college at Northwestern and then I went to USC for law school.
Blade: Your focus turned to politics after graduating?
Heilman: I’d already been involved in political activities; LGBT, Democratic Club, ACLU. Then I just got involved in the campaign for West Hollywood cityhood. That really stemmed from the work I was doing with housing issues.
Blade: Are housing issues a focus for you?
Heilman: Yeah, it’s a big issue in Southern California, particularly in West Hollywood.
Blade: Tell us a little bit about OutRight.
Heilman: OutRight is an amazing organization. They bring LGBT activists to the UN where they provide training and advocacy. Some of the people they bring to the UN get to meet with government officials, which they wouldn’t be allowed to do in their home country because they have to be pretty much invisible.
OutRight also trains journalists in the Middle East, for example, where having a positive language about LGBT people and non-biased information is really important. The journalists all are hungry for this. We also work with activists right now in Indonesia because there’s been crackdown, so we’ve convened all of the activist groups to talk about a common strategy, how to interact with the government and how to oppose what’s being done. I really felt like we needed to have a fund that was just dedicated to safety for LGBT activists who are under threat. We had people in the Middle East who we relocated to Beirut because they are facing threatening situations in their home country. We were working with people in Tanzania who didn’t have access to healthcare because no one would serve them. We helped them formulate a clinic and fund the clinic that would be able to serve not only LGBT, but other people as well. These things were the motivation for the fundraising campaign.
Blade: Is your fundraising all derived from public support?
Heilman: Yeah. I’ve asked friends and family and others to support us with this campaign. Right now, we’re close to $15,000, which for an organization like OutRight is a significant fundraising event
Blade: What are you hoping to take from your experience here in Paris?
Heilman: My goal is to not be last, and I really am doing this for the cause. I’m not expecting to run a great time. I want to enjoy the run and really be thankful and appreciative that I’m able to do it at my age and that I’m able to do it for a good cause. Seeing all these people from different parts of the world come together and share this experience is incredibly magical.