Earlier last week, the 9th Gay Games began in Cleveland, Ohio with the Opening Ceremony and much fanfare. The Gay Games, a week-long event that I like to think of as a ‘small-scale, LGBTQ oriented Olympics’ began in 1982 in San Francisco. Since then, every four years the Gay Games has been held in a variety of locales—from Chicago to Amsterdam. This event allows people of all backgrounds to participate, regardless of actual sexual orientation.
As a local Clevelander, it has been exciting to see the city rally behind this event. Restaurants have banners proudly hung in their windows to show their support or sponsorship to the Gay Games. Many local nonprofits, even ones whose programming is not directly related to the LGBTQ population, have shown overwhelming support for the Gay Games as well.
It’s undeniable that the Gay Games is a good event. It has brung nonprofits, the public sector, and the private sector together for one ultimate cause: LGBTQ equality. In a city socially fragmented in many ways, it’s refreshing to see everyone’s efforts coalesce into the production of a successful event.
Not only are there the requisite games of cycling and soccer, there’s a smorgasbord of cultural and entertainment events happening as well. Theaters are putting on plays, clubs are holding burlesque shows, even bubble-gum pop star Katy Perry will be in town. In many ways, this has been a successful event. But for whom?
Earlier this summer, I ran into a long-time acquaintance that works with an LGBTQ oriented nonprofit in the Cleveland area. Eventually, the conversation turned to the upcoming Gay Games.
“That event isn’t for Cleveland’s gays.” she told me. “How much of Cleveland’s inner-city youth will be involved? Cleveland’s gay adults? The actual sporting events are only half of the story. The big things will be the events, the plays, the comedy shows, the concerts. They always are. With most of the city living near the poverty line, the inner-city population isn’t going to be very much involved with that. How could they? How could they when most events start at $20 per person?”
“The Gay Games aren’t for Cleveland’s gays. They’re for the suburban gays, the Gays from Florida and California with enough money to throw around to fly-out to Cleveland for a week”.
And, I must admit, in a lot of ways, that statement is true. People tout the Gay Games as a panacea for gay-straight relations in Cleveland. If only this was the truth.
When I was deciding if I wanted to go to the Opening Ceremony of the Gay Games, I asked around: was anyone I know going? With tickets that started at $20, many said no. For many people, $20 per person would seem like a reasonable price. For people living in the inner-city who live paycheck to paycheck, or who are supporting multiple family members on a single salary, that $20 is a whole lot more.
Bring your family of 4 to the Gay Games? Plus gas and money for parking? Not only is the cost of the events prohibitive, but the people involved with the Gay Games are overwhelmingly white.
As Cleveland is a majority-minority city, with African Americans leading in Census data by about 15 points compared to the white population, this is more than just a class issue—it’s a race issue as well.
Having been involved with Cleveland’s LGBTQ community through the work that I’ve done with local nonprofits, I notice that there is always a palpable gap between the events that are accessible to those with money, and those without. With our minority populations already being so fragmented: we should be investing in events that bring our communities’ people together, not that push them apart.
This is not to say that the Gay Games aren’t a push in the right direction: they are. But with so much money being pushed into the Games, should there not be more of an emphasis on bringing people together?
With many inner-city Cleveland neighborhoods being hostile places for the gay and transgender population, the Gay Games is not a panacea for gay-straight relations here. It’s a monumental event here in Cleveland. But it’s also a week-long sporting event where even some of the gayest of gays are financially precluded from the festivities.