Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Reflections on Gay Games 2014

The Federation of Gay Games took a leap of faith when they chose Cleveland and Akron to host the 2014 Games, bypassing such larger cities as Boston, Washington, DC, and Miami. 

Make no mistake: Ohio is a right-of-center state.  Not extremist like Kansas or Mississippi, but certainly no Massachusetts or California either.  Same-sex marriage remains unrecognized here, and with the exception of a few forward thinking municipalities, you can still be fired from your job for being gay.  I’ve stated it before and will do so again: the thing I like least about our city is that it’s part of Ohio.  At times, I wish the Cleveland-Columbus corridor could secede from Ohio and form our own state; West Connecticut, perhaps.  That said, Ohio’s anti-gay element largely remained at home and vented their homophobia in the comments section, save for one lonely sign-holder, Courtney Hayes of Washington, DC, seen on the corner of East 9th and Lakeside.  

I find it amusing that the Cuyahoga County GOP is portraying itself as open because it did not oppose the Gay Games coming to Cleveland.  In essence, the GOP position is: “Come to Northeast Ohio and spend your money here, but don’t expect your marriage to be recognized and if you move here, it will be legal to fire you from your job for being gay.  Better yet, just come here, spend your money, and leave.”  I hope Northeast Ohio’s LGBT voters will bear that in mind this November.

The people of Cleveland proved that we’re up to the task of hosting the Gay Games with style and a sense of friendliness that would have left the other contenders in the dust.  Attendees from all areas of the country – indeed the world – commented on what a fine city Cleveland is and how friendly the people here are.  One attendee from England summed it up nicely when he told me “Every negative thing I’ve heard about Cleveland over the years is a bloody lie – this is a lovely city”.  I think one of the reasons why the games were so successful here is that Northeast Ohio – and Cleveland in particular – were hungry to prove they could host, with distinction, an event which drew people from the world, and thus demonstrate to the world that the Cleveland of burning rivers, a deserted downtown, and defeatism are part of a past which has deservedly been buried.  I doubt Boston, Miami, or the District of Columbia would have been so hungry to please.

The welcoming atmosphere was enhanced by the many local organizations that lent their support.  Among these was the Cleveland Orchestra, which performed a concert at Severance Hall that was attended by many GG9 participants.  This was part of the orchestra’s Summers at Severance series, where they played an abbreviated program (one hour, with no intermission), serving cocktails before, and with a party afterward.  The all-Beethoven program included the Creatures of Prometheus Overture, Symphony No. 4, and the ChoralFantasy.  I was amused by the reaction of the largely out of town audience, which applauded between the Symphony’s movements.  At one point, I overheard a couple from New York, praising the visual and aural beauty of Severance Hall, and commiserating about how poorly the New York Philharmonic sounded compared to the Cleveland Orchestra.  It was all well played, of course, but I was left wondering about the program:  Beethoven is certainly easy to market, but wouldn’t it have been more appropriate to include LGBT composers, like Tchaikovsky and Barber?

There was another area where there was room for improvement: There were no food concessions at the Cleveland Convention Center, despite all-day events there.  Nor were any of Cleveland’s renowned food trucks to be seen.  Since outside food was prohibited at the Center, participants and spectators were compelled to trek to nearby locations – impractical when the weather didn’t cooperate.  Ironically, food trucks and increased food concessions were in evidence at the festival area on Mall C during the closing ceremonies, by which time a number of the participants had left.

It has been reported that the attendance was lighter than at previous Gay Games in Chicago and Cologne.  This is not surprising.  I’d wager that most of the reduction in attendance was not from the athletes, but from those for whom the Gay Games are more of a party and a week-long opportunity to “hook-up.”  Certainly, all the team athletic events we attended appeared to have a full complement of participants.  But there is a certain breed of gay man who exists only to party, and I saw a number of those over this past week.  I spotted one such person as we made our way to the opening ceremony at the Q.  He was wearing a cut-off tank top, flip-flops, and shorts so skimpy I was tempted to ask him if he’d dare dress that way in front of his mother.  Then there were the 40 and 50-somethings who were trying (and failing) to pass for their counterparts of a younger generation.  There’s little in life as tragic as an aging boy-toy.  They reminded me of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, concealing her age with ten inches of makeup.  While such characters as Desmond are regarded as camp icons, let us remember the character herself is delusional, homicidal, and not someone to emulate.  (In similar fashion, it’s amusing to see angry white men post pictures of Howard Beale in “I’m mad as hell and not going to take it anymore” mode, not realizing the character is a suicidal paranoiac who’s being used as a tool by his corporate masters.)

But I digress.  Let's get back to the subject at hand, the Gay Games.

Dan & I attended a number of the athletic events, particularly volleyball where the Puerto Rico Golden Boys earned the division Gold medal. 
We also saw the wrestling clinic where Hudson Taylor was a special guest.  It was moving to see this straight founder of Athlete Ally speak with simple eloquence about acceptance of gays in the sports world. 

Northeast Ohio’s successful hosting of the Gay Games augers well for the 2016 Republican National Convention.  While I don’t plan on supporting their ticket, I’m delighted they’ve chosen Cleveland; to quote their former party leader, “Bring ‘em on”.

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