I have lived in Cleveland for over twenty years. I like the place even though in many ways it is a typical mid-western city and somewhat conservative in its outlook. In fact, Ohio was one of those states that passed a constitutional amendment effectively banning same-sex marriages in 2004. I would not have thought any city in Ohio to be at the forefront of liberal social values and so I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the cities of Cleveland and neighboring Akron had jointly bid for and won the right to hold the next Gay Games in 2014.
This quadrennial event has been held since 1982 and seems to be growing. There are expected to be over 11,000 participants from more than 65 nations. Some of the events will be held at Case Western Reserve University where I work, which is not a surprise since our university has become a strong supporter of the LGBT community. I thought it interesting that the games seem to emphasize inclusiveness and fun, not just athleticism. As the games’ host website says:
Gay Games 9 isn’t just fun and games – there are sports, too. The invitation to participate is open to everyone, no matter their sexual orientation, gender, transgender status, religion, nationality, political convictions, athletic abilities, age or physical condition.
What was even more surprising than getting the games here was that there was little or no local opposition to bidding for it. In fact there was so little local fuss that I was not even aware of it until this week, even though the decision had been made all the way back in 2009.
Opposition to the bid for the games was virtually nonexistent. The Rev. C. Jay Matthews, leader of Mount Sinai Baptist Church and a prominent voice in Cleveland’s African-American community, led an unsuccessful campaign last winter challenging the city’s domestic-partnership registry. But he took no public stand regarding the games. “Ohio has a reputation that is more conservative than the reality,” says Sue Doerfer, executive director of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Community Center of Greater Cleveland. “This effort will change Ohio forever,” says Joe Cimperman, a Cleveland city council member, who expects the council to vote next year on bills protecting transgendered people from discrimination and extending domestic-partner benefits to city employees. “You’re damn right this is about an agenda. Because if this doesn’t improve human equality, then why do it?”
Cleveland may also have won the bid because it knows how to party. As part of the bid process, each finalist city organized a meeting to show community support for the games. A few hundred people attended the events in Washington and Boston. In Cleveland, 7,000 people packed the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to capacity, overflowing into an adjacent park on the Lake Erie shore. “It was a truly amazing evening,” Schaaff says.
Nice work, Cleveland! The next test for us will be to put on a good show and make all the participants and visitors feel really welcome. You can expect that there will be protests from people like the Westboro Baptist Church and other national and local anti-gay groups. If their protests fail to gain steam and fizzle out due to lack of local support, then we will have truly turned a corner.