[Updated July 24, 2015]
The potential merger in 2022 of the long-running Gay Games and the relatively new World Outgames has one staunch opponent: Jessica Waddell Lewinstein, the daughter of Gay Games founder Dr. Tom Waddell.
"Not to say change is bad, [and] more often than not it's a good thing. But in this particular case, I think the merger will only result in people forgetting about the original mission and principles that at least one of the events, [the Gay Games], were founded upon, [which are] participation, inclusion and personal best.
"I think the merger will ultimately diminish the experience that the Gay Games has successfully offered over the course of the last 30-plus years. The Gay Games have always revolved around sports, and I, along with many others, firmly believe that this new merger will detract from that."
The Gay Games, operated by the Federation of Gay Games ( FGG ), is the largest and oldest sports and cultural event primarily for LGBT athletes, as well as artists and musicians. The quadrennial, multi-sport event dates back to 1982, when it was first held in San Francisco. The Games were held in Chicago in 2006 and the most recent edition was held last summer in Cleveland and Akron, Ohio in 2014.
The 2018 Games will be held in Paris.
The World Outgames, run by the Gay and Lesbian International Sport Association ( GLISA ), launched in Montreal in 2006, kicking off that year a few weeks after the Chicago Games ended. There also have been World Outgames held in Copenhagen ( 2009 ), Antwerp ( 2013 ) and next will be in Miami Beach in 2017.
Several years ago there were intense talks by FGG and GLISA to merge into one quadrennial, multi-sport and cultural event, but that failed. At least at the time.
Earlier this year it was announced that FGG and GLISA were once again trying to merge into one quadrennial eventfor 2022.
The [merged event] will work to perpetuate the history of FGG and GLISA, while also working to bring the LGBTQI community together, a statement from both organizations said.
"The Gay Games means a lot to me. I have a lot to thank them formy family, my life, my career," said Lewinstein, 31, who lives in Oakland, California, works as a communications manager at 2K and is engaged to John J. Kopp III, a partner alliance manager for SONY.
"[The Gay Games are] the reason my parents [Tom Waddell and Sara Lewinstein] met, the reason I was born, and the reason I got into communications after college. That said, it also means so much moreand not just to me, but to the LGBTQ community as a whole. It's a place for people to come together, take pride in who they are, overcome their differences, build relationships, and share a common interest in sports."
Lewinstein is so adamantly opposed to a merger that she's started a change.org campaign, urging people to sign up online in support of nixing the merge.
"I know the FGG collected 2,000 votes of support for [the merger], but I think it's important to note that the number is less than half of the participants from Cleveland," which attracted 5,000 to 7,000, Lewinstein said. "We have no idea how many voted against [the merger], and we have no idea who these people are. As someone who is very data-driven, I would like to know how big the pool of people they reached out to was, who they were, and how this poll was even taken.
"Otherwise, I honestly haven't seen enough data or testimonials to convince me that this [merger] is what people want, nor have I seen a plan that would convince me that this is the right direction.
"In general, I'm totally open to merging two events, if it is done properly and makes sense, but I'm not seeing anything that tells me that this is one of those situations."
Lewinstein said she has reached out to FGG to ask why they think the merger is a good idea, "but they have yet to tell me their reasoning, or really talk to me at all about it," she said. "To their credit, they did invite me to a recent conference call, but it was unfortunately booked for times that conflicted with my day job, and I have not heard back from them about arranging some kind of follow-up call or discussion since."
Clearly it is a "very tough" time for Lewinstein, who certainly wants to honor her late father's legacy, which she wants to preserve.
"I would be lying if I haven't fantasized about being able to take my own future family to a Gay Games one day, showing my one-day kids what their grandfather did, who he was, and what kind of impact he had on people from all over the world," she said.
Lewinstein started her online petition about a month ago and has 287 signatures of 500 needed, as of press time.
"Just seeing that there are people that feel the same way as me, and reading their testimonials is heartwarming. Even if we don't win this fight, I am so proud of what everyone is doing to contribute, and humbled by their support," she said. "That said, we are facing an uphill battle when it comes to raising awareness. It's very hard to reach out to a national or global audience I've never really had a direct line of communication with before, so getting their attention now is certainly a process."
Lewinstein is convinced that a merger would "severely impact" the Gay Games legacy. "With the merger, they want to essentially change the event's core principles, focus and mission, [and also] the name. And once you change those, what's really left?" she said.
Site selection for the 2022 event, if merged, will begin in the fourth quarter of 2015.
Lewinstein said maintaining the Gay Games name is only part of the issue. "I want to make sure we aren't detracting from the overall experience. Sports, teamwork, and participation is at the core of what the Gay Games are, and I just don't want us to lose that," she said.
Lewinstein has never attended a World Outgames, nor spoken with GLISA representatives.
"I would like to encourage all Gay Games supporters to join in the fight against this merger, and help preserve the Gay Games legacy," she said. "While the FGG and GLISA already voiced their intent to join forces, we can still make a difference by showing them how important the Gay Games is to us, and why maintaining its core focus on athletics is so vital to its success."
Lewinstein lived in Chicago in 2006, working on those Gamesand those are her fondest memories of the Games.
"After having attended these events with my mom over the years, Chicago was the first one where I got to branch off and do my own thing, and really take an active role in working on the event itself," she said. "I mean, I've spoken at previous Games, but getting in on the ground floor, building relationships with the people that are making things happen, and contributing to the overall success of the event, was such an incredible experience. Not to mention, the people that were working on the team, most notably Tracy Baim and Kevin Boyer, [who] were so smart and passionate, there are many things that I learned from them that continue to help me grow in my career today.
"Overall, I think the best part of working at the Gay Games in Chicago was being at the Opening Ceremony to see all the athletes walk in. It's just that moment you find yourself immersed in a sea of love and excitement that is radiating from thousands of people from all over the world, knowing that they are all there to celebrate one mission, together. It's the moment that all of your hard work becomes worth it, and the dream becomes a reality."
Lewinstein worked for the Chicago Games in marketing and public relations.
"It was one of the greatest experiences in my career, and is the sole reason why I went into communications," she said.
See www.change.org/p/federation-of-gay-games-gay-and-lesbian-international-sport-association-keep-the-gay-games-alive .
Letter to the Editor regarding "Daughter of Gay Games founder opposes merge with World Outgames"
On behalf of the Federation of Gay Games (FGG) board of directors, we would like to offer additional information and perspectives on the July 9, 2015 Windy City Times article by Ross Forman, titled, "Daughter of Gay Games founder opposes merge with World Outgames".
We at the FGG continue the important work of engaging the world in our mission of "promoting equality through the organization of the premiere international LGBT and gay-friendly sports and cultural event known as the Gay Games." We are excited about the 2018 Gay Games 10 in Paris and invite the world to attend!
The recently issued Memo of Understanding (MoU) between the FGG and the Gay and Lesbian International Sport Association (GLISA) addresses a collaboration for one quadrennial LGBT sport event for 2022. Each organization will continue regular operations, mission-based work, and production of planned programming. Both organizations responded to a global survey of more than 2,000 constituents, and the primary result is resoundingly clear: the world of LGBT artists and athletes want one unified event.
The FGG created an "FAQ" document to address the many questions raised regarding this MoU; this document is available below, as well as transcripts from meetings and the original MoU. The primary issue raised by the Ross Forman article mentions a MERGER, which is one of our FAQ. While a merger is an option, it is NOT supported by either organizations' board of directors nor the working group assembled by both organizations during this process.
The MoU further states that a Transition Commission will be created to engage in a global consultation and engagement process that will further outline and recommend how to produce the one unified event; both organizations are continuing operations and planned events as stated above. It is during the "Transition Commission" phase that issues of concern by many will continue being addressed. In the mean time, GLISA will continue in its role overseeing World OutGames IV in Miami 2017; similarly, the FGG will continue in its role overseeing Gay Games 10 in Paris in 2018.
Both organizations are committed to transparency of information, openness of communication, and inclusivity of member organizations. Multiple information sharing events have taken place, and the FGG has worked to include voting members and partners of the organization, "Honorary Life Members", past board members and numerous other passionate supporters of the Gay Games. Included in these communication sharing events were two conference calls held in June, but unfortunately sources for this Windy city article were not present on the conference calls.
The Gay Games was conceived in San Francisco in 1980 by Dr. Tom Waddell as a vehicle of change and is built upon the principles of Participation, Inclusion, and Personal Best. Since 1982 the Gay Games have empowered thousands of LGBT athletes and artists through sport, culture, and fellowship. The Federation continues its best work in many ways, and this includes working to be the vehicle of change to be inclusive of the world's sport and cultural communities into one quadrennial event and having more participation than ever. Gay Games 9, held in August, 2014, was arguably the most successful event to date, based on the financial legacy left in Northeast Ohio and the overwhelmingly positive results from a massive participant survey.
We invite and encourage all audiences to continue sharing constructive support and staying informed with accurate information. Both organizations are diligently working towards the a single clearly communicated goal: the world of LGBT athletes want a unified quadrennial event.
Conference call transcripts, recordings and notes: