Come One, Come All 

The Gay Games come to Cleveland next summer, and it's going to be huge

Tom Nobbe (pronounced like "Adobe") is the Executive Director of Gay Games 9, the International Olympic-style sporting extravaganza coming to Cleveland in Summer 2014. He's a gay man living in Cleveland Heights and he's thrilled by what an event of this magnitude portends for the LGBT community in Cleveland and Akron, and for Northeast Ohio at large.   

Sam Allard: Tom, help settle a bet, would you? Is it true that you don't even need to be gay to participate in the gay games?

Tom Nobbe: That's right.


You don't need to be gay, you don't need to be good. You just need to be 18 years or older. The games are all about diversity and inclusion and we're encouraging anyone who wants to participate to sign up, particularly in our region. Of all the games that have been put on so far, we're the smallest market, so we're really looking for collaboration beyond the LGBT community to make them a success.

So I can just, like, show up?

You have to register online, but you can actually register for the games without registering for a specific sport. That gets you a participation medal, it lets you march into the Q for our opening ceremony, which is going to be hugely exciting, and gets you into the closing ceremony at the Rock Hall.

Will the opening ceremony be bigger or much bigger than the spectacle in London?

Well, it's very prescribed by the Federation of Gay Games, the governing body.

Sounds like something out of Star Wars.

Yeah, so we'll have 2.5 hours, and after speakers and introductions and the march in...It'll start with San Francisco and then countries from around the world—we've already got participants from 18 countries—and finally the participants from Cleveland and Akron. Our goal is to get 1,000. There's nothing to announce in terms of entertainment, but we can assure you that it will be a fantastic event. It'll rock.

The gay games have been in New York, San Francisco and Cologne, Germany. Why are they coming to Cleveland?

Well, I came on after the bid was secured, but the Synergy Foundation really rallied the community and made a huge case for the region. In the end, the Federation looked at this region as an opportunity to show the world that, yeah, the games can be held in San Francisco, Vancouver, or Sydney, Australia, but they also can be held in the mid-section of the heartland of the United States. It's a huge opportunity to show the world that our region is embracing of diversity. And we have great facilities.  

In both Cleveland and Akron, right?

What we've tried to do is focus as many events as possible in central locations. As far as Cleveland is concerned, we'll have events in the new convention center, City Hall.

City Hall?

Actually not City Hall. Public Hall, the Music Hall. Cleveland State, Case Western, all along the Health Line. And in Akron, it's kind of the same thing. We're going to have our marathon down there, softball, soccer, and track and field at the University of Akron. We have 36-plus sports (including darts) and three cultural events as well—band, chorus and visual arts. Are you familiar with the North Coast Men's Chorus?

Sure am.

Yeah, so there are lots of those types of organizations around, particularly in the U.S. and they'll participate.

How are you reaching out to all these international folks?

I've actually got in front of me—it's all over the map—we just got registrants from China and India this past week. We are marketing in Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand. I was interviewed by an Australian LGBT sports-talk show last Monday morning. They know Ohio—this is very interesting—because of the election. They know that it was the state that put Obama over the top. But we have our work cut out for us. Once people come here, they love it. It's just getting them here.

And what would you say to sell someone who's unsure?

I would say that we have a very strong LGBT community. We don't have a "Gaybourhood," as such, but we have a community in which LGBT folk feel comfortable.

Are you gay?

I am, yes.

And how do you feel about the gay social culture? I think I only know of 2 or 3 gay bars.

Yeah, we're aware of that. First of all, we have a really burgeoning small-business sponsorship program, so small businesses can sponsor the event and have our stickers in the window. But you know our neighborhoods—Ohio City, Detroit-Shoreway, East Fourth and all that. What I always argue is that those places will be a blast for these people as well.

Man, the economic impact on the region is going to be huge, huh?

We're estimating over $50 million in economic impact and we're basing that on past games. We figure that each participant brings a partner, friend or family member and will spend about $1,700 on a hotel, food, drinks, retail. And many of them will be here the entire week.

I'm sure the Positively Cleveland crowd is thrilled.

Yeah, and we want them to come back. We've had people come to visit and they really do rave about Cleveland. One of the things they rave about—to your point about only having three gay bars—is that they were at other places and felt totally welcome. They find that people here are hugely excited about this. When it was in Sydney or Chicago or places like that, it was "Yeah, this is the Gay Games but next week the radiologists are coming in." Here, because we're smaller, this will have huge impact. Economically, but also in terms of transforming people.

So then, are you thinking the presence of the games will affect the community in any substantive way after the fact?

We've said from the start that we want to leave a legacy. We don't want everybody to leave and nothing has changed. A healthier LGBT community is a healthier community at large, so we're working with the Cleveland Foundation up until the games on programs. I'd like some program tied to LGBT athletes in the region—high school athletes, college athletes, coaches—programming around sensitivity.

That Jason Collins story was pretty huge in that respect.

Absolutely. And then you've got [new WNBA phenom] Brittney Griner, who's a lesbian, and Robby Rogers, who's a soccer player from the LA Galaxy—used to play for the Columbus Crew— and there's gonna be more. So the timing is really great to continue to raise awareness. As a gay person who's out, it's a huge thing to be able to just be who you are. When you're holding back, you can't be your whole self. And if that's participating in a sport or your job or whatever. The Gay Games are about allowing people to bring their whole personhood to the event.

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