CLEVELAND, OH - The theme for Gay Games 2014 is #GoAllOut and Cleveland did just that in welcoming LGBT athletes from across the globe in a dazzling Opening Ceremony on Saturday night.
Gay Games 9, presented by the Cleveland Foundation, will run through Aug. 16 throughout Cleveland and Akron, Ohio. Whether it is the myriad rainbow flags fluttering in front of businesses and eateries, the parade of signs hanging in windows heralding the Games, or the rainbow lighting of the iconic Terminal Tower and laser canopy over Festival Village at the base of Lake Erie – the welcome is hard to miss.
An estimated 8,000 athletes (or participants) queued at Progressive Field as they lined up to enter the tunnel into Quicken Loans Arena to kick off the Games. Representing 50-plus countries and 48 U.S. states, plus Washington, D.C., the parade of athletes is nothing short of spectacular and the energy and camaraderie infectious.
“It’s hard to describe in words,” said Alice Tejada, president of Team Saint Louis, who has 56 athletes participating in over 13 sporting events at GG9. “Because you don’t realize that here you are with your gay brothers and sisters walking in together from different continents, different countries and we’re all sharing the same experience.”
“Goosebumps,” offered Betty Neeley, also of TSL, who will turn 78 next week and is participating in her seventh Games. “When you walk in and you see all these other people that are your family—they are your family and they have all gathered here to do something that I think is really important.”
The Parade of Participants lasted well over an hour, entering “The Q” to the crowd’s continuous and cocophonus cheers. The Russian Federation easily drew the most emotional welcome as they joyously entered the arena despite the brutal crackdown on LGBT freedoms in their country.
The Opening Ceremony, the brainchild of Creative Director Patrick Roberge, was heavy on pomp and ceremony with dancing, cheer leading, choral performances and show stopping numbers by Alex Newell, Andrea McArdle and the Pointer Sisters. Out singer Lance Bass and out Olympic diving champion Greg Louganis also took the stage.
From the opening number “Rock and Rubber” set to Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary” to the geeked out superhero production number paying tribute to the birthplace of Superman there was something for everyone to enjoy.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) was on hand and welcomed the LGBT community of the world to Ohio, as did his wife, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Connie Schultz. Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic took the stage to address the arena together. But the highlight of the speeches was the surprise video welcome by President Barack Obama.
“Welcome to the 2014 Gay Games,” he said at the beginning of a one-minute, 23-second message to the thousands of participants, friends and families. “Good luck to the athletes…and go Team USA,” he said in conclusion.
“The Gay Games is thrilled to have President Obama take this time to show his commitment to the Games’ mission of Inclusion, Participation and Personal Best,” said Hollie Ksiezyk, co-chair of Gay Games 9.
Indeed, the Opening Ceremonies mirror those of the Olympic Games with a parade of nations, participant and judges’ oaths and the lighting of the Gay Games flame.
An array of cultural activities from concerts, theme parties and exhibitions are being held throughout the week in keeping with the Games being the world’s largest sporting and cultural event dedicated to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender athletes artists and musicians. Founded in 1982 by Out Olympic Decathlete, Dr. Tom Waddell, the quadrennial event is sanctioned by the Federation of Gay Games.
Still, with many LGBT athletes both amateur and professional alike coming out publically, some have questioned the relevance of the Gay Games in today’s equality-driven climate. It’s something that Sara Waddell Lewinstein, a founder of Gay Games and widow of Tom Waddell turns squarely on its head.
“I think the Games have made it possible for them to come out even more so – it gives them something to come to,” Lewinstein told #Boom. “The thing about the Gay Games is it’s not just about gay men and women and the LGBTQ – It’s about the civil rights movement, it’s about families supporting their nephews, their sons, their grandsons – or their uncles and grandpas, either way. It’s about anyone being able to participate: inclusion, participation, personal best.”
“So when you’ve got more athletes starting to come out – where have they been? Because they’ve been in the closet for years,” Lewinstein continued. “That’s why Tom came out when he did and I can’t tell you how many more Olympians and how many people that I know that are under bogus names over the years coming in because they thought they would get discriminated against for the Olympics. So I understand it, I’m not into outing anyone; I think they’ll be ready when they should be. But I think we’ve made it much better for them to come out.”
Organizers expect up to 40,000 participants and visitors this week to celebrate the Games. The economic impact could be as high as $40 million in Northeast Ohio. #GoAllOut