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Let the Gay Games begin!

Last evening saw the opening ceremony of Gay Games 2014 in my hometown of Cleveland. The games have been held every four years starting in 1982. In 2018 it will be in Paris. I must say that I am proud of the city for offering to host the games and working hard to put out the welcome mat. The institution where I work (Case Western Reserve University) is hosting some events at its athletic facilities. And from all reports, the opening night festivities seemed to have gone well.

Gay Games 9 kicked off Saturday evening with a uniquely expressive Opening Ceremonies featuring performers such as Lance Bass and the Pointer Sisters, remarks from U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and his wife, former Plain Dealer columnist and Pulitzer winner Connie Schultz, and even a surprise video message from President Barack Obama.

It marked the start of a week-long celebration of the LGBT community through sport and entertainment. About 9,000 participants and 20,000 spectators, in all, are expected to make an economic impact on the Cleveland-Akron region of about $40 million.

Before the ceremonies began, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson shared exactly what he told the Gay Games selection committee before event was awarded to Cleveland in 2009.

“If you come to Cleveland, you will be the centerpiece, and we will do all we can to make these the most successful games yet,” Jackson said.

Portraying the Cleveland-Akron area as a gay-friendly region is one of the goals of not only Gay Games organizers, but local politicians who see the potential to initiate local dialogue and discussion.

“It’s easy to hate someone you demonize, but it’s very difficult to dislike someone you know,” Jackson said.

These games have an open and welcoming attitude. It welcomes everyone to compete but those who are serious athletes compete in a separate division from the weekend competitors so you will not see embarrassing displays of highly mismatched competition. You also do not have to be gay to take part.

Even the area Republican party officials welcomed the games.

The participation of the Cuyahoga GOP will also mark the first major outreach by local Republican officials to the LGBT community – and hints at the inclusion they plan as the hosts of the 2016 convention.

Rob Frost, the chairman of the Cuyahoga Country Republicans, said the group will have a booth at the games and will be handing out water bottles with the word “refreshing” on them.

“We hope people do find it refreshing,” he said. “What a great opportunity with the Gay Games coming to Cleveland to welcome the athletes and fans, not just to the Gay Games and not just to Cleveland, but to welcome gays and lesbians to the Republican Party.”

Frost seems a little too optimistic. The national Republican party’s hostility to same-sex marriage has probably dug too deep a hole for themselves for their local representatives to climb out of. But it’s good that they are trying.

Here’s a brief news report of the opening ceremony.

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