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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.


Tallmadge, Ohio Holds Its First Gay Rodeo: VIDEO

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Ohio Wranglers fans, rejoice, because Tallmadge has just given you another reason to slip into your skintight denim. This year the Summit County Fairgrounds played host to their first-ever gay rodeo, and what's more it was a hit. There were a handful of unorthodox events, such as men trying to put underwear on a goat, but most of the amateur competitions were rodeo standards and taken seriously. Surprisingly, while the competitors were largely gay, nearly 20% were actually straight, and they were bringing their families to see the show, to boot. No small amount of the spectators were straight as well, something that one simply wouldn't expect in such a conservative part of the state. It's a harbinger of good things to come, so here's hoping Tallmadge's gay rodeo grows in both size and renown.

You can watch a video of the story - and get an eyeful of participant Red Hodeo - AFTER THE JUMP...

  Red

Continue reading "Tallmadge, Ohio Holds Its First Gay Rodeo: VIDEO" »


Bill Maher has a New Rule for the Dude Planning Ohio's Upcoming 'Straight White Guy' Festival - VIDEO

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A series of fliers advertising a "Straight White Guy Festival" have been popping up in Columbus, Ohio, but local residents and authorities are still unclear if it's real or a joke.

Regardless, Bill Maher wants people to realize that every day is 'Straight White Guy' festival in Columbus. And the Republican Party is hoping to tap into this oppressed community come 2016.

On Friday, RNC members cast a unanimous vote to make Cleveland the host of its 2016 national convention.

Watch, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Bill Maher has a New Rule for the Dude Planning Ohio's Upcoming 'Straight White Guy' Festival - VIDEO" »


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" »


Marriage Equality Hangs in the Balance at the Sixth Circuit

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BY ARI EZRA WALDMAN

Yesterday's marathon arguments before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reminds us that one judge can have a lot of power. A three-judge panel consisting of one Clinton appointee and two George W. Bush appointees could be the first federal appellate court to side against marriage equality in the post-Windsor era or they could join the chorus of colleagues tossing these discriminatory bans on the ash heep of history. Based solely on the questioning from oral argument, it may come down to one judge: a conservative named Jeffrey Sutton.

6Attorneys for Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee took turns arguing that the bans are justified because only opposite sex couples procreate naturally. Judge Martha Craig Daughtry questioned how it was possible that keeping gays out of the institution of marriage could in any way help or encourage heterosexuals to give birth to more kids. One attorney even cited the decreased birth rates in Europe and Russia as a reason for encouraging opposite sex couples to marry. But, as Judge Daughtrey, the most vocal judge, noted, it is unclear how discriminating against gays achieves that goal.

Judge Deborah Cook spoke the least. She has a history of anti-plaintiff, conservative decisions on discrimination. When she did speak, she seemed to suggest that states have broad power to regulate marriage and could maintain traditional institutions as they see fit.

Judge Sutton is a bit of a wild card. A conservative -- he wrote in the Harvard Law Review: "Count me as a skeptic when it comes to the idea that this day and age suffers from a shortage of constitutional rights" -- Judge Sutton voted in favor of the constitutionality of Obamacare and does not always follow a party line. His questioning was back and forth, balanced between the sides. A review of his questions and a cursory analysis of some of his writings and decisions suggest that he is primarily concerned with judicial modesty and restraint. He thinks that the federal courts have done too much, creating new rights and reading rights and regulations into the Constitution that do not belong.

It is unclear whether that preference for restraint means that he will deny that a right to marry exists for gay couples.

He wondered if his court could even make a decision or whether the judges were bound by a 1971 Supreme Court decision (Baker v. Nelson) that said that marriage lawsuits do not belong in the federal courts. Almost every other court to address marriage equality addressed and dismissed the Baker canard: gays had not recognized federal rights in 1971; today, after Windsor, after Lawrence, and after Romer, is a different time. Judge Sutton didn't seem too sure.

I Screen Shot 2014-08-07 at 5.39.25 PMf he could get passed the Baker threshold, Judge Sutton still was holding his cards close to his chest. He was pretty clear that the states could not win if antigay discrimination merited some form of heightened scrutiny, but he did not hint that he was leaning in the heightened scrutiny direction.

Perhaps the most interesting part of Judge Sutton's questioning came later in the day when he wondered aloud if the plaintiffs in the cases really want the courts to get involved when the marriage equality movement seems to be gaining political steam and social esteem. Judge Sutton implied, true to his radical vision of judicial abdication of responsibilities, that political outcomes are somehow more legitimate than judicial ones.

It is hard to imagine that view as a legitimate basis for deciding against the marriage equality. Judge Sutton has written a lot about how federal judges do too much. He would prefer that judges take a back seat to the political process, an entirely conservative position given the greater access that money and majorities have to political votes. But just because he prefers judges abdicate their constitutional responsibilities should not absolve him of actually deciding the legal questions before him. The legal questions involve equality and fundamental rights, not some policy preference for more judicial modesty.

This is why marriage equality hangs in the balance. Judge Sutton was not clear where he stands. 

***

Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook. Check out my website at www.ariewaldman.com.

Ari Ezra Waldman is a professor of law and the Director of the Institute for Information Law and Policy at New York Law School and is concurrently pursuing his PhD at Columbia University in New York City. He is a 2002 graduate of Harvard College and a 2005 graduate of Harvard Law School. Ari writes weekly posts on law and various LGBT issues.


A Few Takes on Yesterday's Historic Gay Marriage Arguments at the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals

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Here are a few takes on yesterday's historic hearing of six separate gay marriage cases from Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan, and Tennessee, at the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Above, Judges Martha Daughtrey, Jeffrey Sutton, and Deborah Cook.

Our legal editor Ari Ezra Waldman posted a preview of the arguments yesterday and will have some analysis coming up. For now, here are a few excerpts from various media reports.

Listen to audio from the proceedings HERE.

The Washington Blade:

Based on their line of questioning, two judges — U.S. Circuit Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey and U.S. Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton — seemed prepared to rule against bans on same-sex marriage. The remaining judge, U.S. Circuit Judge Deborah Cook, was relatively quiet, but appeared poised to rule in favor of the laws. Similar to other federal appeals courts, the panel seems headed to make a 2-1 decision in favor of marriage equality.

Although Sutton didn’t make an effort to telegraph how he’d rule, throughout his questioning he suggested he believes  prohibition on gay nuptials are unconstitutional. Ruminating on the changing societal perception of marriage, Sutton said a ban a same-sex marriage “seems to hard to justify even on rational basis grounds” if the institution is intended to express love and commitment.

That said, Sutton also had tough questions for attorneys seeking to overturn bans on same-sex marriage, posing the inquiry of why the LGBT rights movement would want to proceed through the judicial process — as opposed to legislative and ballot process — if the desired result was changing hearts and minds to achieve greater acceptance.

The NYT:

In three hours of back-and-forth questioning, it appeared that neither side could take victory for granted in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, where the cases from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee were heard by two judges appointed by President George W. Bush and one by President Bill Clinton.

Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton, one of the Bush appointees and a likely swing vote among the three, repeatedly asked why gay rights advocates wanted to use the courts to hasten an outcome they were gradually winning through elections and changes in attitude.

“I’d have thought the best way to get respect and dignity is through the democratic process,” he said, expressing a view that, in practice, would most likely deliver a victory to the states seeking to keep bans on same-sex marriage.

The Washington Post:

It became clear after three hours of arguments that the panel could become the first roadblock for proponents of same-sex marriage who have had an extraordinary winning streak in knocking down state restrictions following a landmark decision by the Supreme Court in 2013.

That 5 to 4 ruling struck down the part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as only between a man and a woman.

But a panel of three randomly chosen judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit left questions about whether it would follow the lead of two other appeals courts. Those courts said the reasoning of the Supreme Court’s decision meant that states lacked the right to limit marriage to opposite-sex couples and to deny recognition of unions conducted elsewhere.

Al Jazeera:

Cook, also a Bush appointee, was largely silent throughout the afternoon, with the exception of a few questions that seemed intended to help anti-gay-marriage attorneys hone their arguments. She is so known for her conservatism that she was on the short-list to be appointed to the Supreme Court for the vacancy filled by Samuel Alito.

One concern for Sutton was the fact that the Supreme Court passed last year on a prime opportunity to assert a federal right to marriage. At the same time the high court considered the Windsor case, it also dealt with Hollingsworth v Perry, an appeal of a federal court in California’s decision to strike down a gay marriage ban put in place by voters in 2008 via Proposition 8. The court dismissed that case — and in the process let the California decision stand — on technical legal grounds unrelated to the question of gay rights.

“It does seem fair to say the Supreme Court’s trajectory favors” the pro-gay side, Sutton said. Citing cases that went in favor of gay rights, he then noted, “but they didn’t reach today’s issue in Hollingsworth.”

The 6th Circuit presents gay marriage foes with their best opportunity so far to halt an unbroken streak of more than 30 state and federal cases that have gone for pro-gay groups since Windsor. Sutton and Cook are both appointees of the Bush administration, which vetted federal judge candidates to ensure their conservative bona fides.

That’s a shift from the 4th and 10th circuit panels, which were dominated by more liberal or moderate appointees. In all, 15 of the 22 federal judges who have ruled on gay-marriage bans were Democratic appointees.

The AP:

Constitutional law professors and court observers say that the 6th Circuit could be the first to uphold statewide bans on gay marriage following an unbroken string of more than 20 rulings in the past eight months that have gone the other way.

They point to Sutton, the least predictable judge on the panel. In 2011, he shocked Republicans and may have derailed his own chances to advance to the U.S. Supreme Court when he became the deciding vote in a ruling that upheld President Barack Obama's health care law.

If the 6th Circuit decides against gay marriage, it would create a divide among federal appellate courts and put pressure on the U.S. Supreme Court to settle the issue in its 2015 session. The panel did not indicate when it would rule.


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