May 26, 2011 at 7:53 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Gay Games trial set for July in Cleveland

A lawsuit filed last fall by a Cleveland-based foundation contesting a decision by leaders of the Gay Games to terminate its contract to operate the 2014 LGBT athletic event is scheduled to go to trial July 25.

A spokesperson for the Federation of Gay Games said the organization remains hopeful that a settlement can be reached with the Cleveland Synergy Foundation before the start of the trial.

But the spokesperson, Kelley Stevens, said plans for the quadrennial LGBT sports competition are moving forward and the group is confident the Gay Games will take place in the Cleveland-Akron area as scheduled in the summer of 2014.

“Because there’s a completely different entity running the plans for the 2014 games, they’re not spending any of their time on this,” he said, referring to the lawsuit. “So things are moving ahead as planned.”

The Cleveland Synergy Foundation charges in its lawsuit that the FGG, the City of Cleveland, a high-level city official, and the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission conspired to illegally terminate its contract to operate the 2014 games. The Sports Commission is a non-gay organization that initially pledged to help the Synergy Foundation promote the games.

The lawsuit asks a judge with the Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Court of Common Pleas to force the FGG to reinstall Synergy Foundation as the operator of the games. It also calls for compensatory damages against the FGG and the city “in an amount to be proven at trial” plus interest, fees and possible punitive damages.

The FGG says it terminated the agreement because Synergy failed to fulfill its obligations under the terms of the agreement. It says it acted legally because the agreement included a provision allowing the FGG to invoke a termination provision for non-fulfillment of the contract.

In October, the FGG announced it was replacing Synergy with a newly formed non-profit organization called the Cleveland Special Events Group Corp. through an exclusive licensing agreement. The group consists of LGBT and non-LGBT organizations and individuals from the Cleveland area.

Richard Haber, the attorney representing Cleveland Synergy Foundation, said the new entity appears to be a front group for the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, which he said has emerged as the “behind the scenes” operator of the Gay Games.

He said testimony in depositions given as part of the lawsuit shows that the Sports Commission and Cleveland city official Valerie McCall from the mayor’s office are actually running games operations.

According to Haber, this appears to violate the Gay Games’ longstanding policy of having an LGBT organization in the host city operate the games. The Sports Commission clearly is not an LGBT organization, he said.

Stevens said such a claim doesn’t merit a comment from the FGG.

“I’m not going to comment on the Cleveland Synergy Foundation’s claims,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of claims. So I’m not going to comment on what they think.”

In a competitive bidding process held in 2009, the FGG awarded the games contract to Cleveland Synergy on behalf of the City of Cleveland. The group won the contract over competing bids submitted by LGBT sports groups from D.C. and Boston.

The D.C. group, Metropolitan Washington Gaymes, Inc., has said the FGG’s subsequent decision to oust Cleveland Synergy from operating the games meant that the games should go to D.C., which had been picked as the first runner up for the games.

FGG officials dispute Washington Gaymes’ interpretation of the bidding process, saying the FGG has authority to keep the games in Cleveland even though it was forced to oust Synergy Foundation as the operator of the Gay Games.

Meanwhile, in its court filings and depositions, Cleveland Synergy says it has uncovered e-mails and accounts of private conversations among Cleveland Sports Commission officials making anti-gay remarks and jokes about gays.

Haber said the findings, uncovered during the lawsuit’s discovery process, show that a historically LGBT-run sporting event may now be in the hands of a straight organization whose leaders are, at best, insensitive, to the LGBT community.

Cyd Zeigler, editor and publisher of the blog Out Sports, said he doubts that any of this will make a difference to the overwhelming majority of the 15,000 LGBT athletes expected to turn out for the Gay Games in Cleveland. FGG officials say a combined total of more than 50,000 people are expected to either participate in or attend the 2014 Gay Games.

“Why would anyone care whether the Gay Games are organized by a bunch of gay people or a bunch of straight people?” he said. “Your average gay swimmers and gay softball players just don’t care about any of this.”

Added Ziegler, “If the event is fun, if the event breaks even financially, and the athletes and their friends have fun the event is going to be a success, just as it has in nearly all prior years,” he said.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

  • How can Ziegler say gay athletes don’t care when it looks as though gay rights and efforts are being violated? Also, if Miss America is from Ohio and can’t fulfill her duties, you don’t find some other girl from Ohio. Instead you advance the runner-up from whatever state/city they come from. Let’s see the public records and read what is being attested to.

  • What exactly did Synergy do that the FGG claims was “non-fulfillment of the contract”? Seems the story is incomplete.

    And I don’t see how anyone can say that it doesn’t matter who runs the event. If a basically straight organization, who have may have used “anti-gay remarks and jokes about gays”, is running the Gay Games, why not let Nazi’s run a celebration of Jewish culture or the Klu klux Klan host an NAACP party?

  • Synergy had provided ALL the documentation that was required under the Licensing Agreement between the FGG and Synergy. Internal FGG emails (undercovered in Pulbic Records Requests) document the fact that FGG Board members were then asking for financial reports back to dates that were before the organization even existed to throw up roadblocks and/or obstacles. Makes one think that certain FGG members intended to do this ‘bait and switch’ all along. It would also be interesting to talk to people who ran past games and see what their experience was with the FGG.

  • to this point the entire steering committee, board, and employees of special events corp are all members of the LGBT community so the claims that straight people are running the event is completely off base.

  • Below is the listing of the Board of Director of CSEC and it’s advisory Committee as posted on the FGG’s web site. I must have missed the news article where Cleveland Mayor, Frank Jackson; Councilman Joe Cimperman, Chief of Governmental Affairs, Valarie McCall; Scott Finerman of Second Generation, Head of the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, David Gilbert ; Dennis Roche of Positively Cleveland, Joseph Roman of the Chamber of Commerce; Mededith Scerba of the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, and Sharon Gronowski of Positively Cleveland all came out as gay.
    I guess the city government of Cleveland is a lot gayer than we thought! They will certainly be out and proud at the Pride parade in Cleveland.


    Mayor Frank G. Jackson, Chair
    Mr. Dirk M. Breiding, Akron/Summit Convention & Visitors Bureau
    Mr. Joe Cimperman, Cleveland City Council
    Mr. Jan Cline, LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland
    Ms. Michelle R. DeLozier, WH2, Girl Jam Cleveland & HERricane Cleveland
    Ms. Susan M. Doerfer, Equality Ohio
    Mr. Scott Finerman, Second Generation, Ltd.
    Mr. David E. Gilbert, Greater Cleveland Sports Commission
    Ms. Hollie M. Ksiezyk, LGBT Community Representative
    Ms. Valarie J. McCall, City of Cleveland
    Mr. Dennis J. Roche, Positively Cleveland, Convention & Visitor’s Bureau
    Mr. Joseph D. Roman, Greater Cleveland Partnership, Chamber of Commerce
    Mr. Nathan Tolliver, LGBT Community Representative
    Ms. Michelle Tomallo, Vice President of Fit Technologies (LGBT business) & Plexus Chamber of Commerce
    Mr. Ted Wammes, President, G2H2


    Kevin Schmotzer, Department of Economic Development
    Meredith Scerba, Greater Cleveland Sport’s Commission, Sports Athlete
    Sharon Gronowski, Positively Cleveland
    Eric Lutzo, President & Co-Founder, Plexus

  • Cleveland Special Events Group Corp being run by LGBT community members? PLEASE! It sure didn’t start out that way, and even if there are predominantly gay/lesbian members today it’s because the city and Positively Cleveland went out to find a bunch of “Rent-a-Gays” to manipulate them into acting as a front, as a cast of puppets to dance on the city’s strings, similar to the way the city manipulates “minority contracts” actually run by good old fashioned WASPS, but with rented minorities to make it look good and paper the file. The folks at Synergy got used for their ability to sell Cleveland as the destination for 2014, then cast aside when the city perceived that they would be missing out on the opportunity monopolize the finances of the event. The Synergy guys got used – and never had a chance. They just didn’t realize it at the time they embarked on what was a good deed – which did not go unpunished.


  • People, People, People. Stop commenting on things you know NOTHING about. I personally know most of the LGBT folks on the CSEC Board and describing any one of them as a puppet is so ridiculous and childish it is pathetic. The 8 LGBT Board Members embrace this community in many ways and honestly the comments above are shameful. Come together as a community already and be excited and happy that The Gay Games are in Cleveland. STOP BEING SO NEGATIVE ALL OF THE TIME. There are always 3 sides to a story people. Yours, Mine & The Truth. Stop being so gullable!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Go CSEC and Cleveland. I know I am excited for the Gay Games to be here and to be quite honest, most people don’t really care about anything other than being excited for The Gay Games in 2014 right here in Cleveland. Nobody likes Negative People. Start being PROUD of this amazing city and STOP WITH THE NEGATIVITY. Didn’t your Mama ever tell you, if you didn’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything. Take the high road people and GET EXCITED FOR THE GAY GAMES.

  • Lisa….to your point: as a community, we are not being negative, we are just tired of the one’s who think they can take over. It took 3 men to get the Games here and it took a whole city to screw it up. We WERE quite happy with the fact we had the games now it is just a nightmare. And the overt attitude of “we will do whatever it takes to KEEP them here!” is ludicrous. And as far as ‘Yours, Mine & THE TRUTH’, nothing speaks louder than the depositions of all parties involved. A funny thing about going in front of a judge: the truth will be spoken & recorded. There is no doubt that those 8 people, you may very well know, have done positive things in their own right for our community. But when they all get together to conspire in the name of our community, we have a right to be ticked off. I LOVE CLE more than you know. I have lived here all my life and do not plan on moving away. And I am keenly aware of my surroundings and those who try to shape them. My advice: don’t be just a cheerleader, be a well-informed cheerleader.

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