More than 6,000 athletes representing about 50 counties and most of the U.S. states celebrated the opening of Gay Games 9 in the Cleveland-Akron area of northeast Ohio Aug. 9. Politicians, performers and a parade of athletes were part of the 3.5-hour ceremony at the indoor Quicken Loans Arena.
President Barack Obama sent a video greeting to the celebrants, noting that the Gay Games were previously held in his hometown of Chicago, in 2006. "Welcome to Ohio and the United States of America. … It's been remarkable to see the games thrive over the years," Obama said. "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 on the field at these games."
Olympic diving champion Greg Louganis was the most high-profile openly LGBT athlete at the event, although out male athletes Jason Collins and Robbie Rogers sent a video message of support, along with lesbian singer Melissa Etheridge.
Sara Lewinsteinwidow of Dr. Tom Waddell, founder of the Gay Gameswas at the event, along with their daughter, Jessica Waddell Lewinstein, and Sara's partner Sandra Ghilarducci.
The Tom Waddell Award was presented to Russian lesbian athlete Elvina Yukakaeva for her work on the Open Games in Russia earlier this year, and longtime Gay Games participant and wrestling organizer Gene Dermody. They gave speeches at a special Federation of Gay Games ceremony before the opening event, and their awards were announced at the arena.
The first hour of the ceremony featured the thousands of athletes marching in, including those representing Gay Games founding city San Francisco, and French athletes proud to be host of the 2018 Gay Games 10. There were some countries with just one to three athletes, including India and South Africa (who had Hlengiwe Buthelezi, who competed in Chicago in 2006). Contingents from Russia and Israel received loud applause, as did the countries with a handful of athletes. Some states had a few participants, others, especially California, New York, D.C., and the Midwest states, had hundreds marching in. The International Gay Rodeo Association contingent also marched in togetherrepresenting the first Gay Games with a sanctioned rodeo event.
There was also a strong showing from Chicago, and the rest of Illinois. One of the Chicago Gay Games staff members, Rob Smitherman, also was also a key staff member of Gay Games 9.
As the various countries and states marched in, there was a fabricated guitar, dozens of feet wide, representing the city's rock heritagethe Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is in Cleveland. The guitar was filled with names of each of the contingents, one by one. At the end, as the massive Ohio group marched in, the guitar was completed.
Politicians participated in pre-events and also spoke at the arena for the packed stadium crowd. Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson, Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic, and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and his wife Connie Schultz (a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist) all spoke of their commitment to LGBT equality.
Federation of Gay Games co-presidents Joanie Evans, of London, and Kurt Dahl, of Chicago, also addressed the crowd, along with Gay Games 9 board co-chairs Hollie Ksiezyk and Steve Sokany. Gay Games 9 Executive Director Thomas Nobbe spoke earlier in the day at a press conference.
The ceremony featured several traditional Gay Games cultural elements: the always-enthusiastic cheerleaders, the Gay Games Band, with marching band members, and the Gay Games chorus. The chorus performed alone and then they were joined by Alex Newell of TV's Glee, and Andrea McArdle (she did sing her famous "Tomorrow" song from Annie). Newell was a highlight of the night, and Newell also performed a number with McArdle.
Among the cheerleader numbers was one paying tribute to Cleveland as the birthplace of the Superman character, to the tune of "I Need a Hero." Also fun was a number representing the "rubber" and "rock" of the Akron and Cleveland areas. (Akron's roots are in the tire industry.) The piece was choreographed to the tune of "Proud Mary."
Also performing were out gay singers Lance Bass and Brandon James, and the evening concluded with several songs from the Pointer Sisters.
Earlier in the day, the annual International Rainbow Memorial Run was held, and at the opening ceremony, Brent Nicholson Earle, founder of the event, was acknowledged. A large rainbow flag was escorted on the arena floor, and then passed around through the crowd. It is a tribute to Gay Games athletes lost to AIDS, cancer, and other causes. Gay Games founder Waddell died of AIDS complications, and many of the early participants in the Gay Games were lost to the disease.
While Gay Games 9 is smaller by almost half compared to the 2006 Gay Games in Chicago (which featured 11,700 participants from about 70 countries) and smaller than the Gay Games Cologne in 2010 (which had 9,500 participants from 70 countries), the Gay Games in Cleveland-Akron has especially focused on presenting a high-quality sports and culture event with a focus on financial controls. It is the first Gay Games allowed to have a presenting sponsor, The Cleveland Foundation, and it received extensive support from the governments in its region. Gay Games VII in Chicago did break even financially, but the Gay Games in Cologne was over budget.
The Gay Games continue through Aug. 16; see www.gg9cle.com .
Tracy Baim is publisher of Windy City Times and was co-vice chair of Gay Games VII in Chicago.
Gay Games 9 in Cleveland-Akron: 8-9-2014: Marching into arena 1 of 3
Gay Games 9 in Cleveland-Akron: 8-9-2014: Marching into arena 2 of 3
Gay Games 9 in Cleveland-Akron: 8-9-2014: Marching into arena 3 of 3
Gay Games 9 in Cleveland-Akron: 8-9-2014: Elizabeth Kerekere of New Zealand
Gay Games 9 in Cleveland-Akron: 8-9-2014: Waddell Awards
Gay Games 9 in Cleveland-Akron: 8-9-2014: Marching with Rainbow
Gay Games 9 in Cleveland-Akron: 8-9-2014: Cheerleaders
Gay Games 9 in Cleveland-Akron: 8-9-2014: Rubber Meets Rock
Gay Games 9 in Cleveland-Akron: 8-9-2014: Rainbow Flag
Gay Games 9 in Cleveland-Akron: 8-9-2014: Gay Band
Gay Games 9 in Cleveland-Akron: 8-9-2014: Cheerleaders hero tribute
Gay Games 9 in Cleveland-Akron: 8-9-2014: Pointer Sisters
Gay Games 9 in Cleveland-Akron: 8-9-2014: The flame