CLEVELAND, Ohio — Participants and spectators from 46 countries are coming to the Heartland for Gay Games 9, a quadrennial event that for the first time is taking place outside one of the world’s gay capitals.
In choosing Cleveland and Akron, organizers said they wanted to stage the Games in a place where they could have an impact in boosting acceptance and support of LGBT people.
And although registration for competitors in 36 sports has fallen short of the 10,000 once estimated, the Games’ Ohio hosts say it has lived up to those expectations.
“The Gay Games are one of those events that can bring people together,” said Tom Nobbe, executive director for Gay Games 9. “It raises the awareness of the LGBT community to the broader community. That’s good for everybody.”
The Games start Saturday with an Opening Ceremony at Quicken Loans Arena, hosted by Lance Bass and including Olympics diving legend Greg Louganis, who came out at the Gay Games in 1994.
Sports competition begins at 7 a.m. Sunday with the triathlon in Downtown Cleveland’s Voinovich Park and an open-water swimming race at 8a in Lake Erie.
By the time the Games conclude on Aug 16 with a Closing Ceremony at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, medals will have been handed out in everything from darts to tennis to track and field. There are team competitions in sports such as softball, soccer, flag football and ice hockey.
Article continues belowAnd some competitions can’t resist a bit of gay camp. Swimming concludes with an aqua-drag party called Pink Flamingo. Gay Rodeo, part of the Gay Games for the first time, includes an event called the Wild Drag Race, in which one of each three-person team competes in drag.
Off the field, there’s plenty of gay.
Entertainers coming to Cleveland and Akron during the week include Bass and Louganis, the Indigo Girls, Boy George, Alex Newell of Glee, Ana Matronic of the Scissor Sisters, comedians Erin Foley and Fortune Feimster, and writer Del Shores.
The last three winners of RuPaul’s Drag Race – Bianca Del Rio, Jinkx Monsoon and Sharon Needles – will perform in one show Sunday at Bounce nightclub.
RuPaul fan favorite Pandora Boxx will be the host all week at the Games’ Downtown Cleveland Festival Village, a gathering spot with free entertainment where they’ll recognize medal winners.
The Games are expected to pump tens of millions into the Northeast Ohio economy. Hotels are booked, and non-gay venues are hosting events for LGBT visitors. Arts groups have scheduled performances with LGBT themes to attract the Gay Games audience.
But the event hasn’t come together without a hitch.
The original host committee was replaced by the Federation of Gay Games in 2010 after being accused of breaking its contract. Earlier this year, at least 17 Cleveland cab drivers quit their jobs after refusing to drive vehicles advertising the Games. The LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland and the Community AIDS Network/Akron Pride Initiative have been part of cultural-competency efforts to educate businesses about serving and working with LGBT people.
And not all have been enamored with the idea of spending a week outside the world’s gay meccas.
Article continues belowNobbe said organizers are expecting closer to 8,000 participants rather than 10,000. He said they still expect about 20,000 spectators, though.
On the financial side, though, the Games have drawn the first-ever presenting sponsor. The Cleveland Foundation’s $250,000 donation changed the official title of the event to Gay Games 2014 Presented by the Cleveland Foundation.
The money includes funding for a post-games legacy fund that will aid Cleveland’s LGBT groups with annual grants into the future.
“It will help the Games be more than a single event,” said Kaye Ridolfi, the foundation’s senior vice president for advancement.
Participants at the Gay Games will include people from India, Liberia, Malaysia, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United Arab Emirates, where homosexuality is outlawed. There are also participants coming from Russia, where the debate over a new anti-gay law has brought an increase in violence directed at LGBT people.