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"Passing The Torch" Post 21a of 40

17 Aug 2022 09:31 | Douglas Litwin (Administrator)

Gay Games 9: CLE + AKR 2014 - Part A

Produced and curated by Federation of Gay Games Archivist Doug Litwin and FGG Honourary Life Member Shamey Cramer
with Ankush Gupta, FGG Officer of Communications

Read the entire "Passing The Torch" series as it is posted daily HERE.

Post 21a of 40 - 17 August - Gay Games9: CLE + AKR 2014

“Passing The Torch: Ruby Anniversary Edition” is a factual timeline of the major events that have been part of the Gay Games evolution since its inception. The series will run from 28 July 2022 - one month before the 40th anniversary of the original Opening Ceremony at San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium - through 5 September, the anniversary of Gay Games I Closing Ceremony. All postings will remain online and available for viewing at the FGG website.

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The Cleveland skyline during Gay Games IX. Photo: Gary Sponholtz

To see the a video of the entire Opening Ceremony, click HERE
To see a local Cleveland news report about the Closing Ceremony, click HERE

MARY ZALLER: GG9 was a game changer for Northeast Ohio. Not only for the LGBTQ Community, but for the entire region. We are still experiencing many benefits of the collaborations and relationships that were built during that time – it was truly transformative!

Mary Zaller (left) with her wife Mary Prevel

In 2012, I was hired to be the Director of Development for Gay Games 9. Because Cleveland and Akron are both smaller cities, we needed not only the LGBTQ community, but the general population to get excited about the Gay Games,. I don't have the stats on this, but I think we are the Gay Games that had the most amount of allies as participants and volunteers.

I could talk forever about how GG9 continues to positively impact our entire community. But I was asked to talk about the financial success of the 2014 Gay Games, presented by the Cleveland Foundation (which was our official name). The fact that the Cleveland Foundation – the first Community Foundation in the country - stepped in early with a large sponsorship, lent us credibility with civic leaders in a time before nationwide marriage equality, and other rights for our community. Many of the major corporations, media outlets, sports teams, and nonprofits in the region stepped up to sponsor. Supporting GG9 became a matter of civic pride. Countless companies large and small were excited to be part of the effort, by contributing cash, in kind sponsorships, volunteer support and more.

One of the most gratifying outcomes was the large amount of small business sponsorships: over 150. We enabled businesses to participate for as little as $500 and connect their brand to this exciting international event. It was a way to democratize philanthropy for small business owners.

Gay Games 9 By The Numbers report

The economic impact was huge: $52.1 million plus $20.6 million in job creation! For those who like stats, there are many facts and numbers on the two attached overview documents.

We were a Gay Games of many firsts:

  • The first to undertake an organized effort to engage political leaders
  • The first to formally engage a network of local non-profit organizations as community partners
  • The first to implement a sustainability plan
  • The first to have a sitting Head of State address the Opening Ceremony (thanks to the tireless efforts of Shamey Cramer, FGG Officer of Ceremonies)
  • And the first to have a financial profit that enabled us to give back to our regional LGBTQ Community

Executive Tom Nobbe passing the torch to Paris - Gay Games IX Closing Ceremony

(L to R): Tom Nobbe, Gay Games founder Paul Mart; Honorary Life Member Richard Hogan

We had a dedicated board led by Co-Chairs ​Hollie M. Ksiezyk and Stephen G. Sokany, and a never-give-up and ever-growing staff led by Thomas Nobbe, Executive Director. One of the things we are proudest of, is that we ended with a $150,000 surplus that we were able to donate to the LGBTQ funds at the Cleveland Foundation and the Akron Gay Community Foundation.

The Federation of Gay Games chose Cleveland and Akron Ohio to make a difference by changing hearts and minds in the “heartland” of America. By all estimations, that goal was accomplished with the huge success of GG9.

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Gay Games IX Scholarship orientation session. Photo: Doug Litwin

Gay Games IX Scholarship recipients in Cleveland

JEFFRY PIKE: Sharing the personal stories of scholarship recipients during and after the Sydney and Chicago Games has increased enthusiasm of donors and led to additional scholarship endowments and donations, thus expanding the opportunity for the FGG to help more participants attend Gay Games IX Cleveland (2014) and Gay Games X Paris (2018).

"I am actually thinking about becoming a president of the LGBT sports organization in St Petersburg. So, yes, yes, it is interesting for me to be here. I can see more about how to organize an event. It is very important for me. I am very grateful for all the people who helped us to be here today and all the ceremony, it’s really... I will cry, sorry... for me it is my dream to be here, and I am here, so thank you, thank you.”

— St. Petersburg, Russia Event: Badminton

“I say very simply what is from my heart, Thank You. It’s not only two words, (starts to tear-up), It’s really important... I, don’t know many words of English. It is really sometimes very hard to know who I am, but today I am happy, I cry, but I feel happy... so thank you.”

— Moscow, Russia Event: Badminton

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Jeferson Sousa (center) with Joanie Evans and FGG Site Selection Officer Dave Killian 

JEFERSON SOUSA: Hi I’m Jeferson Sousa. I live in Brazil. I have been a physical education teacher since 2004 and sport has been a part of my life since I was a child.

After I came out from the closet, I tried to find some organisation here in Brazil where I could learn and participate more about lGBTQIA+ issues. To my surprise, I found CDG BRAZIL in São Paulo searching on the internet in 2009. I became a volunteer and two years later, I was invited to become CDG Brazil Vice President. CDG BRAZIL means to me a great history. I learned as well as had a great experience working inside a LGBTQIA+ NGO.

Flyer for the 2014 "Building Bridges" Town Hall meeting during the Sin City Classic

The Gay Games changed my life forever. Through their scholarship program, I was able to make a presentation at the Federation of Gay Games 2014 “Building Bridges” symposium in Las Vegas and participated in Volleyball at Gay Games 9 in Cleveland that summer. My team captured a silver medal.

That was the most incredible experience of my life. I felt like a blessed, embraced, and lucky person. There were so many great people there sharing their experiences and life stories.

When I returned, I came out to my family, and also came out on national television in Brazil. Through my work with CDG BRAZIL, with the support of the FGG, we produced Rio 2016 Olympic Pride House and a multi-sport festival in conjunction with Sao Paulo Pride 2017.

And in October 2017, I became the first Latin American member of the FGG Board of Directors when I was selected to be an Officer at Large. I was able to promote greater awareness about the Gay Games with a lot of LGBTQIA + organisations here in Brazil and Latin America. And now, Guadalajara Mexico will host the first Gay Games in Latin America!

Being part of the FGG and participating at Gay Games changed my life, making me a better, stronger and more polite person.

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Jim Hahn (left) with his medal-winning team in Cleveland. Photo: Jim Hahn

JAMES HAHN: Gay Games 9 would change things up yet again and become the first Gay Games to partner with a local organization to facilitate the production of the Games. This Gay Games would become known as The Cleveland Foundation presents Gay Games 9: Cleveland + Akron 2014. The Cleveland Foundation was formed in 1914 for the purposes of enhancing and promoting Cleveland, Ohio.

As the saying goes, we arrived in Cleveland. The first thing I noticed was a bright billboard near the highway on the way into town from the airport welcoming people to the Gay Games. It was the first time I'd ever experienced the word “Gay” in bright lights in a very straight, very public setting.

Cleveland businesses rolled out the "rainbow carpet." Photo: Jim Hahn

In almost every storefront, including those in the permanent farmer’s markets and in shopping enclaves in various parts of town, there was a rainbow flag or the Gay Games flag. You knew immediately that you were intentionally welcome there. Nearly everything was organized beautifully, including the convention center and the park across the street which was home the Festival Village, a running venue of vendors and stage shows throughout the week.

Teammate Doug Litwin was lucky to find our team a large, beautiful home in Cleveland Heights to rent. It was a great venue for us to meet with friends and teammates throughout the week. To get to downtown from this house you drove several miles on a long thoroughfare which the first thing I noticed was that nearly every flag pole in front of nearly every building had a rainbow flag on it. The Gay Games has never had such a welcome.

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FGG Co-Presidents Kurt Dahl and Joanie Evans speaking at the GGIX Opening Ceremony. Photo: Tricia Uveges

JOANIE EVANS: For years I had always joked about being the first Black Female Co-President of the FGG, mainly because I had thought it was an inaccessible role for me as I’m working class, live in a council flat and earn a minimum wage. But now I am, I see that it was possible due to my years of participation on boards, committees, and my commitment to sports, which I hadn’t noticed had been noticed. Now that I’ve been in the role for a while, I see the seriousness of what I can represent, not just a woman of colour but as an advocate of sports for ALL.

FGG Co-Presidents Joanie Evans and Kurt Dahl at the GGIX Opening Ceremony. Photo: Tricia Uveges 

Leading the Board out, ahead of the Parade of Athletes in Cleveland/Akron 2014 was amazing. I had been in Cleveland for a few days before the games started and had wandered around the city with my pals Elizabeth Kerekere and Alofa Aiono from New Zealand. Little did I know how much my life would be changed after the Opening Ceremony. It took me over an hour to leave the stadium as I was mobbed by participants, which I wasn’t expecting at all.

The rest of the Games, I had no time to myself. I had chosen not to play football as it would not have allowed me to visit as many of the events in Cleveland and Akron to show my support to the participants and hear from them what a difference the games has made for them in the same way it had for me and I loved every interaction.

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Tony Smith (center) at Gay Games IX Closing Ceremony. Photo: Tony Smith

TONY SMITH: While with the Colorado Gay Volleyball Association, I served as President and helped our organization host two North American Gay Volleyball Championships in Denver, not to mention countless local leagues and tournaments. In 2010, I pitched a position to the organizers of the 2014 Gay Games 9 Cleveland + Akron called the International Champions Coordinator, a program that continues to this day. The sole purpose of this program is to get more athletes to participate.

I created the International Champions Program based on the observation of how the world of LGBTQ sports had evolved since the Gay Games began. Public and organized LGBTQ sports are a recent phenomenon due to equality trailblazers around the world; one initial way to organize athletes for the Gay Games were “TEAMS” organized by major cities and states i.e. Team San Francisco, Team Colorado, etc. Since then, however, LGBTQ sports have evolved grown exponentially to be focused mostly by sport, by orientation and by location i.e. Colorado Gay Volleyball Association, National Gay and Lesbian Flag Football Association, etc. This evolution required the Gay Games to re-think how it reached out to athletes all around the world – the key being reaching out to our target audiences of athletes already participating in sports and cultural activities featured at the Gay Games. One example I stressed is that casting a wide net of Gay Games promotion at Gay Pride Parades is simply not focused enough; we need to get Gay Games promotional materials directly in the hands of the very people we want to get to the Games.

The International Champions Program works to laser-focus marketing to sports and cultural events participating in the Gay Games, followed by identifying individuals that champion all elements of the Games, target outreach to tournaments, organizations and events that have traveling athletes and cultural participants. This marketing includes banners, t-shirts, business cards, social media, influencers, celebrities, government, Ambassadors, and more.

Following my service 2012-2014 for Gay Games 9, I was elected to the FGG Board of Directors as the Officer of Communications 2014-2018.

Read more about Gay Games IX in Post 21b

Read the entire "Passing The Torch" series as it is posted daily HERE.

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