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Kurt Niece: Why Cleveland got Gay Games 9

(Editor’s note: Gay Games 9 begins this weekend in Cleveland, Ohio. SDGLN Visual Arts Critic Kurt Niece steps away from his beat to write a personal piece about how underdog and under-appreciated Cleveland beat out other better-known cities to host the sporting event that draws LGBT athletes from around the world.)

Back in March 2009, three of 14 cities were semifinalists in the bid to host the 2014 Gay Games. Much to everyone’s shock and to the dismay of some, Cleveland, Ohio was a finalist.

From the shores of Lake Erie, one could hear the tongues clicking and jaws dropping of the other finalist cities, Boston and Washington DC. Some joked that the clatter was the crackling of another river fire but I knew better. I recognize the sounds of chagrin, no matter how distant. One can only imagine the racket from Boston and DC when Cleveland ultimately won the bid to host. It wasn’t pretty.

For the sake of disclosure, I’ve lived in Cleveland part time for years and full time for the last two years. My other homes are in the West: Tucson, Arizona and my adopted city, San Diego, California, thanks to the generosity of dear friends with spare bedrooms.

So why choose Cleveland?

I wanted to see water fall from the sky on a regular basis. Unfortunately that water crystallizes to snow a good portion of the year, but that’s another story.

And because it’s cheap to live in a huge, fabulous, light-filled warehouse loft for about the same price as a parking spot in San Diego.

But mainly Cleveland because it is truly one of the most underrated cities in the country. The art scene is brilliant. The Cleveland Museum of Art is one of the world’s top institutions. The Cleveland Symphony Orchestra knows few rivals, and the theater scene here is second only to Broadway.

There are drawbacks, of course. This is a city of way too many smokers, laughably bad tattoos and massive insecurity complexes. But the upside rules. This is also a city with one of the most brilliant, educated, humble and underappreciated populations in the country. And the gay community, in particular, is a brew of farm boys and girls, immigrants and natives, all blessed with an outstandingly developed sense of sarcasm and humor that’s the survival trait of most underdogs. Go ahead. I dare you to keep up after the second cocktail at Twist.

Tom Nobbe, executive director of Gay Games 9, concurs. Tom grew up in the region, has been involved in LGBT, AIDS activism and HRC for many years and now, the Games.

“I’m asked, ‘Why Cleveland?’ for the Gay Games a lot,” Tom said in an exclusive phone interview with San Diego Gay & Lesbian News.

“We’re affordable, we have fantastic venues and summer in northeast Ohio is beautiful. We really wanted the Games, and that was shown through the support we received through the cities of Cleveland and Akron, and the community in general. It was clear to the Federation of Gay Games that this region really wanted to host.

“But, one of the most important reasons was the opportunity to change hearts and minds about the LGBT community. It’s already happening. We’ve seen it over and over again in corporate sponsorship and the participation of over 200 small businesses that have signed up to sponsor. We have over 2500 volunteers, so it’s already made an impact by bringing in people within and without the LGBT community who would have not had a reason to unite, and the games have done just that.”

As far as outcome, Tom sees growth in numbers.

“The LGBT community will continue to feel stronger, to grow and feel good about itself because of what we’ve done. We put together the games and have been able to successfully collaborate with the broader community, which is very important.”

Tom continued, “The second thing is that people will find this is a great place to visit and a great place to live, and that it embraces diversity. We have over 50 countries and 48 states that are going to participate. So folks who have never visited the region are going to realize how underestimated we are. They’re going to have a great time, see how friendly people are here and the experience will be something so positive that they’ll take that home with them.”

So there it is. Just as Cleveland learned to embrace and capitalize on “The Burning River City” and plant the seeds of the ecology movement, the city equally anticipate the opportunity to show case the North Coast. East Coast and West Coast will always have a huge place in my heart, but there’s always room for one more shoreline.

Let the Games begin!

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Kurt Niece writes about visual arts for SDGLN. He is a freelance journalist from Cleveland, Ohio. He is the author of "The Breath of Rapture" and an artist who sells his work on his website.