CLEVELAND — D.C. athletes who competed in last week’s Cleveland-Akron Gay Games had mostly positive things to say about their host cities, despite Washington losing the bid to host the games.
Local media reported that the event generated “tens of millions” of dollars for the economy with an estimated 40,000 visitors – athletes and supporters – from more than 40 countries making the trek to Ohio. Among them were about 200 Team DC-affiliated athletes competing in an array of sports including bowling, golf, rowing and water polo.
“This was my first Gay Games so I didn’t know what to expect,” said Kurt Powers, a Mount Pleasant resident who won a gold medal in the men’s doubles tennis tournament with tennis partner Harrison Nguyen. “It was obvious that the gay community there was delighted to be hosting us.”
The broader Cleveland-Akron community was welcoming for the most part, Powers said, although he and his friends were the targets of anti-gay slurs one night when a group of men shouted “faggots” after them as they were walking downtown.
Powers said the Festival Village, where entertainment was provided, was “really neat.” The venues were nice too, he said, but unfortunately they were “a little spread out,” which made it hard to attend multiple events. He admitted, “it was a bit of a strange feeling at times” for the D.C. contingent given that Cleveland beat out Washington to host the games.
Jeffrey Dutton, a long-time Logan Circle resident who won an age group medal in the marathon, spoke highly of his Cleveland-Akron experience.
“It was the best opening ceremony I have ever attended,” said Dutton, who has been to five previous Gay and Out Games. “The stadium was completely packed. It gave you a strong sense of the whole LGBT community in Ohio uniting behind the Games and being as welcoming as possible,” he said. Dutton, who has run more than 100 road races, was impressed by the attention to detail of the marathon organisers. It was the first time, for example, he saw volunteers wearing badges indicating if they were holding out cups of water or Gatorade. Many of the events, including the marathon, were held in Akron, an hour’s drive from Cleveland.
The Games were visible. Cleveland’s iconic Tower Terminal was floodlit in rainbow colors at night and local bars and restaurants were festooned with rainbow flags and welcome signs. Starbucks even outfitted their staff in black T-shirts emblazoned with a rainbow-colored coffee cup. Weather was a factor. Heavy rain early in the week caused some events to be postponed, which was irksome for participants trying to plan their event schedules. On the positive side, the unseasonably cool temperatures – it was in the 50s some mornings – proved a boon for outdoor athletes like distance runners.
“Overall, it was a positive experience. I would go to the next Gay Games in Paris in 2018,” said Powers. For him, the week’s highlight was the video message that President Obama delivered for the opening ceremony. “It was a very nice and emotional moment,” he said, “especially when you think how gay marriage has been used as a weapon against us in past elections.”