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Gay Games Make Powerful Impact on Hearts and Minds in Cleveland

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(photo by brent mullins; photos below by cyd zeigler)

BY CYD ZEIGLER

The Gay Games bill themselves as the “games that change the world.” This week in one of America’s most purple states, they certainly changed Northeast Ohio.

Outside of religion, sports are America’s most powerful cultural force. For a sports town like Cleveland, where conversation about the Browns’ quarterback battle dominates the news, the Gay Games were the perfect tool to make inroads into the hearts and minds of Ohioans. 

ClevelandCertainly this Gay Games was smaller than any since 1986. While organizers claimed in the neighborhood of 7,000 registrants, participants at virtually every sport reported drastically smaller competitions than years past. If I had to make a wager, my best ballpark guess would put the number of actual competitors around 5,000. That’s quite small for the Gay Games.

Yet the event’s ability to affect change in this bellwether state was not diminished. You only had to walk through downtown, or even Little Italy several miles from the festival village, to see rainbow flags where you might not expect them. The power of the pink dollar was seen with rainbows plastered across seemingly every business from hot dog carts to Starbucks, from taxi cabs to the Cleveland Indians. Tower City Center, an iconic Cleveland landmark, was lit like a rainbow every night for the whole city to see. 

Yet the loudest rainbow flag was likely the smallest: a rainbow sticker on the bumper of a police cruiser parked outside the Renaissance Hotel, the de facto center of these Games. 

I made it a point all week to talk with the police officers across the city. They were in full force patrolling the swimming venue, on horses at rowing, with the bomb unit at track & field. They couldn’t have been friendlier, almost like a welcome committee in blue.

“We just want everyone to be safe,” said one cop whose K-9 Benny stole the show at the festival village. “We don’t want anyone to get hurt.”

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The modern gay rights movement started when police raided the Stonewall Inn intent on rounding up a bunch of queers and drag queens in New York City. Forty-five years later their only concern in Cleveland was making sure no one bothers us again.

These Games also brought outreach to two of America’s biggest hurdles in the race for equality: The Christian Church and the GOP. The United Church of Christ was the first denomination to sponsor the Gay Games, and they did it at a high (silver) level. The Republican Party of Cuyahoga County manned a booth at the festival village all week.

The fact that Cleveland was selected over Boston and Washington DC to host the event meant a lot to the people of Cleveland. For an overlooked city that hasn’t won much in sports over the last half-century, hosting these Games was a source of pride. That the games were “gay” gave it that much more meaning. 

“I’m just so proud of this city,” a straight resident told me on the street. “We get a bad rap here in Cleveland and it’s been great to see the city really embrace the gay community.”

Yes, it was a smaller Gay Games. Yes, a big part of the reason was a lack of interest in Cleveland itself. And yes, few participants were there with the intent to shift the culture of Northeast Ohio.

Yet the lasting legacy of the 2014 Gay Games will be its role in changing how the blue-collar Lake Erie region views and treats LGBT people. Sure, Boston and Washington DC would have drawn bigger crowds. But their cultural impact would have been diminished in a state or a district with same-sex marriage and strong protections for LGBT people.

For Cleveland – for Ohio – these Gay Games were a watershed moment.

Cyd Zeigler is co-founder of Outsports.com. He has also written for CNN, MSNBC, Time and Playboy. He regularly appears on national sports media as an expert on LGBT issues in sports. Outsports is a media partner with the Gay Games.


Obama Makes Surprise Video Appearance at Gay Games Opening Ceremony: WATCH

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The Gay Games 9 kicked off in Cleveland last night with thousands of people from all over the country and world gathering to take part in the LGBT-inclusive sporting event. 

The opening ceremony featured appearances by former Olympian Greg Louganis and singer Lance Bass - as well as a surprise message from President Obama via video.

Said Obama, in part:

Screen Shot 2014-08-10 at 7.19.39 AM"Even since 2006, when the Games were last held in the United States, in my hometown of Chicago, we've come a long way in our commitment to the equal rights of LGBT people here and around the world...I know some of you have come from places where it requires courage, even defiance, to come out - sometimes at great personal risk. You should know that the United States stands with you and for your human rights, just as our athletes stand with you in these Games."  

Check out Obama's full speech and video footage of the opening ceremony, AFTER THE JUMP...

The Gay Games will run until August 16. 

Continue reading "Obama Makes Surprise Video Appearance at Gay Games Opening Ceremony: WATCH" »


Freedom To Marry Wants Young, Pro-Equality Republicans To Run For Delegate Spots At 2016 GOP Convention

FreedomToMarryFreedom to Marry recognizes the shifting tide toward a pro-marriage equality Republican Party, and they aim to capitalize on the demographic most ready to take the plunge. In a series of meetings in Iowa this week, FtM will encourage Republicans under the age of 30 to run for coveted delegate position slots at the 2016 GOP Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. Their participation would help the party move on important changes in language, from anti-gay to pro-conversation, which could be key should the Supreme Court not decide on a same-sex marriage case in the coming year.

Politico reports:

“It’s time for the party to modernize on this issue,” said Margaret Hoover, a Republican strategist, CNN commentator and native Iowan who is part of the Freedom to Marry delegation making the trip to the key early presidential state...

“We want for the presidential process in 2016 [that gay marriage will] be an issue nationally that Republicans are debating,” said Tyler Deaton, the campaign manager for the Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry effort.

He added, “Our intention is to bring a record number of young delegates to the convention … and make some history.”

Cleveland2016The Republican Party has consistently received flack for its exclusivity, particularly against young people, women, and the LGBT community. Freedom to Marry hopes to achieve a more even-keeled approach by shifting the party's platform.

“We recognize that there are diverse and sincerely held views on civil marriage within the Party, and that support for allowing same-sex couples the freedom to marry has grown substantially in our own Party,” reads some of the proposed language.

“Given this journey that so many Americans, including Republicans, are on, we encourage and welcome a thoughtful conversation among Republicans about the meaning and importance of marriage, and commit our Party to respect for all families and fairness and freedom for all Americans.”

Those hoping for a younger, more-center-leaning GOP in 2016 have their work cut out for them.


United Church of Christ Becomes First Denomination to Join Gay Games as Major Sponsor: VIDEO

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This year, the United Church of Christ is set to become the first religious denomination to serve as a major sponsor of the Gay Games, The New York Times reports:

UccThe denomination, the United Church of Christ, has its headquarters in Cleveland, which, along with Akron, is one of two cities that will play host to the more than 35 sporting and cultural events scheduled to be part of Gay Games 9. Geography, however, is only one reason the church agreed to become a major sponsor; ideology loomed larger.

Indeed, the UCC has a long history of promoting LGBT-inclusivity, becoming one of the first mainline Christian churches to support marriage equality back in 2005. More recently in April, the UCC filed a suit in North Carolina challenging the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, saying that the law’s penalties against clergy who conduct ceremonies for same-sex marriages violates their free exercise of religion.

Check out a UCC video of the sponsorship announcement, AFTER THE JUMP...

Gay Games 9 will take place Augus 9-16. More info here

Continue reading "United Church of Christ Becomes First Denomination to Join Gay Games as Major Sponsor: VIDEO" »


Boy George to Headline 2014 Gay Games White Party in Cleveland

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The 2014 Gay Games are set to take place in Cleveland from August 9-16 and just announced that Boy George will help them celebrate when he headlines the official Gay Games 9 White Party at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica in downtown Cleveland on August 11:

Gg9Boy George will be joined by internationally-known deejay Marc Vedo and Cleveland-based electronic dance deejay/producer Evan Evolution to present a night of electronic music during this Gay Games signature event. Party goers can expect a massive sound, light and visual stage production powered by Advanced Concert Productions. ACP is best known for its national and international stage builds for Life In Color “World’s Largest Paint Party,” Ultra Music Festival in Miami and The Spring Awakening Festival in Chicago.

White Party event coordinators, Liquid Nightclub , Tru Events and Jacobs Pavilion, proudly announce further support of Northeast Ohio’s LGBT community by donating $1 from every ticket sold to the new LGBT fund being established by Gay Games 9 at the Cleveland Foundation.

Tickets go on sale starting today HERE.

After May 31, the registration cost for GG9 increases - so any participants wanting to take part should sign up by Sunday to get that deal. Sign up HERE.


'Religious' Taxi Drivers in Cleveland Refusing to Drive Cabs Bearing Ads for the 'Gay Games': VIDEO

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The 2014 Gay Games are set to take place in Cleveland from August 9-16 and The Plain Dealer is reporting that some drivers of the zone-based taxis operating out of Cleveland Hopkins International Airport have notified their bosses that they will not drive the cabs for religious reasons, because the cabs have signage advertising the Games.

Hopkins released a statement saying that two of the three taxi companies operating at the airport -- Ace and Yellow Taxi – were informed by several of their drivers they will no longer participate in the airport's dedicated taxi cab program.

Patrick Keenan, general manager for the third company, Americab, said two of his drivers also have opted not to drive because of the Gay Games ads. The drivers are Muslims, Keenan and Hopkins spokeswoman Jackie Mayo said.

The drivers told their companies that their decision was based on religious reasons, Hopkins said in its statement.

WOIO adds:

19 Action News reporter Brian Duffy spoke with about 20 cabbies at the airport who are still driving and all of them confirmed there are drivers who have walked off the job on protest. Representatives of AmeriCab, one of the three cab companies on the job at the airport, also confirmed the protest but say only one of their drivers has been reassigned.

We're told at least 16-17 drivers who work for Ace Taxi, another company working out of the airport, are no longer driving. We went to Ace but were told they were too busy to talk to us. Yellow Cab, a third cab company at the airport, never returned our calls.

Watch a report on the walk-off from Cleveland's WOIO, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "'Religious' Taxi Drivers in Cleveland Refusing to Drive Cabs Bearing Ads for the 'Gay Games': VIDEO" »


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