Game Changer

Sometimes progress can be slow. But sometimes, each little advance brings momentum until you notice you're a long way from where you began.

That's how I feel about this month's "Out Loud" feature. The idea for it — a nagging question, actually — came back in November 2009. While attending a City Club of Cleveland forum on how we landed Gay Games 9, I wanted to know: How gay are we? What was life like for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people in our city? Did we offer more than tired Lakewood stereotypes and a few bars?

Hosting the games would be transformative, predicted Cleveland Ward 3 councilman Joe Cimperman, who moderated the forum. "It will change Cleveland forever," he claimed.

An LGBT ally, Cimperman introduced the city's domestic partner registry in 2008. There have been other strides as well.

But in many ways they seem small — especially in a state like Ohio. Without marriage equality, we must construct Rube Goldberg work-arounds for things as basic as raising children and providing health care. Without protection for employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity, we create an environment where getting a job may mean hiding who you are. The murders of three transgender individuals last year are grim reminders that violence against the community remains.

Without progress on the big issues, the everyday, and sometimes unintentional, barriers we create to greater equality will be even harder to overcome. A wedding ring or public restroom should not be points of crisis for anyone — but in many cases they are. Subbing "partner" for "husband" or "wife" in conversation and pushing for single-stall family restrooms are simple steps that we don't often consider but absolutely should.

As it has been in other areas, maybe sports can fuel such change. I need only look at my 16-year-old son for an example. He was baffled by the uproar over Michael Sam, the first openly gay football player selected in the NFL draft. While he understood the cultural significance of the milestone, my son couldn't fathom the consternation over Sam kissing his boyfriend on ESPN. One person kissed another on TV, he reasoned. End of story.

But it's not. It's somewhere near the beginning. Many in his generation think the same way — so far beyond where many of us are today, already accepting changes that we haven't even considered. And that is our opportunity as these games arrive, a chance to fundamentally change who we are as a city for everyone to live, work and be themselves.

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