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Gay Games 9 provides international catalyst for change

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By Thom Callahan, Akronist contributor

A Gay Community Endowment Fund grant helped bring the Gay Games to Northeast Ohio.

The streets of Akron and Cleveland set an international stage in Northeast Ohio in August 2014 when visitors, athletes and allies from around the globe arrived for Gay Games 9.

"We’re a relatively small community, so the Games have really put a spotlight on us that has never happened before," said Tom Nobbe, GG9’s executive director. "This is a big deal for us, and we’ve really kind of stepped up and taken this on with the collaboration of folks from the non-LGBT community, which is what these Games are all about. It’s a catalyst for change."

The first Gay Games was in 1982 and since then has been staged every four years. GG9 presented more than 35 sports, including basketball, bodybuilding, cycling, rowing, sailing and swimming, plus two cultural events, band and chorus. And most importantly, participants did not have to be LGBT or overly athletic to participate.

"One of the reasons we got the Games is because they (Federation of Gay Games) wanted to go into a community that would bring change," Breiding said.

And that change has been substantial, with the extensive collaboration in the Akron-Cleveland community and beyond with the LGBT population and its allies, including neighborhood and faith-based organizations.

"We got a tremendous response from the community as far as sponsorship and have a number of great foundations who have contributed to the Games," Breiding added.

Presenting the Games, which were open to those 18 and older regardless of sexual orientation and athletic prowess, was the Cleveland Foundation, which like other community foundations, works with donors to build community endowment to enhance the lives of its residents.

Akron Community Foundation also was pivotal to the Games.

In October 2013, the Gay Community Endowment Fund of Akron Community Foundation announced that proceeds from its annual Sugar Plum Tour, along with a generous grant from Akron Community Foundation and two additional donors, would support the games in a big way, bringing the fund’s total commitment to a record $100,000 and making it a platinum sponsor and the official host sponsor of events held in Akron and Summit County.

The Games kicked off on Aug. 9 with an Opening Ceremony at Quicken Loans arena. This ceremony rivaled any Opening Ceremony of the Olympics. Besides the traditional parade of athletes by counties and states, Cleveland and Akron were highlighted as an inclusive destination. This was capped off with many national celebrities, including Lance Bass and Andrea McCardle, as well as a stunning closing act by the Grammy Award group the Pointer Sisters.

"It’s a show that not only highlighted our two communities but showed the world how inclusive and diverse we are here in Northeast Ohio," said John Garofalo, volunteer co-chair of the Opening Ceremonies and Vice President of Community Investment at Akron Community Foundation.

Nobbe conceded that this area isn’t so much a go-to destination for many LGBT travelers but those who do visit are "savvy … and surprised when they come, the Parisians, Londoners and Germans, for example, they didn’t know what to expect because for them it was a different experience, but they felt totally embraced."

And, Nobbe added, not all travelers prefer to visit the LGBT hot spots, the more touristy places such as Miami, Fort Lauderdale and San Francisco and "would rather have something more diverse."

"I think one of the attractions of this area is that it’s the Midwest; people are genuine, it’s affordable, and there’s really a ton of things to see," Nobbe said. "We all know when the weather warms up everything explodes, and there’s something going on all the time."

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