Blacks take leadership roles in Gay Games

James W. Wade III | 8/13/2014, 9:47 a.m.
Gay Games 9 enjoying Cleveland's hospitality.
More than 12,000 participants and spectators enjoyed Opening Ceremony of Gay Games 9 in Cleveland with Team Ohio as the last entrant in the Parade of Participants marched into Quicken Loans Arena on Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014.

The International Gay Games has arrived in Cleveland. So now when you hear, “Hey, there’s that gay girl.” You’ll know it’s because two Black females are running the show.

Phyllis Harris, a Clevelander who serves as the executive director for the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) Community Center, led the opening ceremony by carrying the symbolic torch. This followed a series of competency trainings she conducted for the Cleveland Police Department. Around 1,600 police officers were trained. Now, when Harris walks down the street, there’s always some officer who points her out. However, she is excited about the chance to help her hometown and to provide help for the Black community to better deal with the LGBT community.

Another Clevelander, Esha Hand serves as the operation’s director, providing housing for their interns volunteering with the Gay Games. Hand, who also worked with the Senior Games, said Cleveland registration numbers are lower than some of the past games.

“The board is a very diverse board, made up of Blacks, Whites, LGBTs and straight people,” said Tom Nobbe, executive director of Gay Games.

The International Gay Games has started and is another feather in the city’s cap. Presented by the Cleveland Foundation, it is one of the most inclusive sports and cultural festivals in the world. The Games are open to all adults regardless of sexual orientation or athletic ability.

Cleveland has registered 8,000 to participate in more than 35 events, which include traditional sports like track and field, basketball and non-traditional sports such as ballroom dancing. And what would the Gay Games be without a rodeo category? That was a rhetorical question.

The participants come from 51 countries and 48 states. The more than 35 sports and culture events will be held in venues around Cleveland and Akron with an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 people expected to attend. A golf tournament will be held at the historic Firestone Country Club in Akron and is likely to draw a number of straight competitors if they so desire. Mall C has been transformed to a village that gives you that Olympic-style flavor and serves as the spectators’ location.

“Festival Village is the hub and heart of activities for all Gay Games participants, their friends and families, spectators and members of the general public and is an exciting place to enjoy,” said Cleveland Councilman Joe Cimperman.

“It’s where community and connections will be formed and where thousands of people will gather to meet up with friends, to meet new people, to celebrate their personal victories, to be entertained, to eat and drink and to otherwise relax and enjoy Cleveland and Akron hospitality.”

The closing ceremony will also be on Mall C.

The Gay Games is an international sporting and cultural event held every four years under the founding principles of participation, inclusion and personal best. Launched in 1982, the Games invite participation from everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, race, gender, religion, nationality, ethnic origin, political beliefs, athletic or artistic ability, age, physical challenge or health status.

The Games are intended to bring a global community together in friendship, to experience participation, to elevate consciousness and self-esteem and to achieve a form of cultural and intellectual synergy. The Gay Games is open to anyone 18 years or older.

About 10 percent of participants are from outside the LGBT community.

The games are about diversity, Nobbe said, who also explained that The Games’ main focus is to stamp out the stereotypes and focus on the people who are competing.

“The biggest reason for the region to host the Gay Games is the kind of legacy it can leave for northeast Ohio,” said David Gilbert of Positively Cleveland and the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission. “The eyes of the LGBT world and LGBT media will be on Cleveland and will give our community a chance to shine.”