While 7,000 to 8,000 athletes are expected to participate in the Gay Games, it hasn't been an easy sell for Cleveland and Akron. Underdogs in the 2009 bid against Boston and Washington, D.C., we are the smallest metropolitan area to ever host the every-four-years event since its founding in 1982 by Olympian Tom Waddell. "The biggest challenge for us has been selling Cleveland and Akron to a very travel-savvy target audience that is accustomed to participating in Gay Games hosted by much larger LGBT tourist destinations such as San Francisco, Chicago, Sydney, Australia, and Amsterdam, the Netherlands," says Tom Nobbe, Gay Games executive director. He talks to us about what we can expect and the lasting changes he hopes the games will bring to the region.
Q. The other finalist cities to host the games are traditionally thought of as more LGBT-friendly. So why us?
A. This is a region in the heartland of the U.S., not necessarily known as a tourist destination in general, let alone for LGBT folks. Having these games in Cleveland and Akron was an opportunity to really use them as a foundation or catalyst for changing hearts and minds.
Q. What helped set us apart as a host city?
A. These are probably the best venues that the games have ever seen or close to it. We're using the new [Cleveland] Convention Center for volleyball, and the universities — Cleveland State University, Case Western Reserve University, the University of Akron — have fantastic recreational centers. You can have all your volleyball players in one location, all your bowlers in one location, where in the past they may have been split up.
Q. Do you believe change will happen in this region?
A. My staff, my volunteers and I have seen that every day. If no one showed up for the games, we would have already had a huge success for this event being the catalyst to change.
Q. What's one good example of how things have changed in Cleveland from the time the games were announced until now?
A. Without a doubt, a tangible change has been the number of individuals and organizations in the region who have become more aware and sensitive to the issues of the LGBT community through the cultural competency training of the Diversity Center of Northeast Ohio and other organizations. Without the Gay Games, there would have been no impetus to conduct this kind of training on such a wide scale.
Q. Where do we go from here?
A. One of the things we — the Cleveland Foundation and the board — want is to leave some sort of a legacy through these games. We've established the Gay Games LGBT Legacy Fund that will help the LGBT community keep promoting the health of the community.