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Gay Games allows Cleveland the opportunity to be an LGBT-friendly beacon

By Douglas J. Guth
Photo by Thomas Skernivitz

The 2014 Gay Games arrive in Northeast Ohio this summer with up to 9,000 athletes from around the world, along with an estimated 20,000 additional guests, performers, spectators, and volunteers. At least one Cleveland neighborhood is working to ensure participants in this year’s Games get the warmest of welcomes.

Tremont is an official sponsor of the ninth Gay Games, an effort led by the Tremont West Development Corp.

Leaders of the nonprofit community outreach group say its involvement reflects the neighborhood’s history of inclusivity and believe connecting with the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender) diaspora through such a high-profile event could have a long-term impact on Tremont as well as Cleveland as a whole.

“It’s about gaining a reputation as a welcoming community that supports uniqueness and diversity,” Scott Rosenstein, community involvement manager with Tremont West, says. “We can build a legacy on that.”

As part of its Games-friendly campaign, Tremont West has placed an ad on the local convention and visitors bureau website that provides visitors with information on what to see and do in Tremont. The group also has plans to erect signage throughout the area that will carry messages of diversity and greeting to out-of-town guests. These free-standing well-wishes will likely remain up year round to emphasize the idea of inclusivity for which the community wants to be known, Rosenstein says.

Among other possible week-of activities, the community group may open a temporary visitor’s center in which tourists can find city maps and other information. Free gallery hops or musical performances, meanwhile, would be specifically targeted to those visiting Cleveland during the week.

In addition, Tremont West has been talking to local block clubs in search of volunteers and sponsors. Business outreach has been another facet of the organization’s Gay Games efforts, Rosenstein says, as the community has a number of LGBT-owned shops among the galleries, restaurants, and boutiques that pepper the district.

One supporter of Tremont’s brand of diversity is Rowley Inn, a venerable neighborhood pub and grill and a sponsor of the Games. The establishment, purchased by Matt and Emily Petersen earlier this year, held a fundraiser in April that raised more than $1,300 for the Gay Games Athlete Scholarship Fund, which assists in supporting gay athletes who may otherwise be unable to participate due to travel expenses or difficulties wading through an international government’s red tape.

Matt Petersen has lived and worked in Tremont for years and knows just how far the neighborhood has come in terms of economic growth, safety, and diversity.

“We’re very open,” he says. “There’s a large gay community in Tremont already. We just want to make sure people know that you can come here, be safe, and have a good time.”

Hosting the Games offers Cleveland an opportunity to act as a shining beacon for a region that some still may view as stodgy and close-minded, Petersen says. Just being in the same company as a city like Paris, which will host the 2018 Games, shows how progressive Northeast Ohio has become.

“I’m glad to be able to participate,” Petersen says. “It’s huge honor and speaks volumes to where Cleveland has come in the way we accept people.”

An inclusive outlook has long been a part of life in Tremont, Rosenstein says of Tremont West. The chance to put that attitude on an international stage is of critical importance to a city trying to rebuild itself, he says.

“We have the ability to impress others while laying aside some stereotypes,” Rosenstein says. “We’re not San Francisco, Miami or Los Angeles, but in terms of smaller cities, Cleveland can catch on as a hidden gem for the LGBT community.”
“I’M GLAD TO BE ABLE TO PARTICIPATE. It’s huge honor and speaks volumes to where Cleveland has come in the way we accept people.”

The Games begin with opening ceremonies on Aug. 9 at Quicken Loans Arena and extend more than a week, with athletes competing in such sports as swimming and diving, track and field, wrestling, and volleyball. Venues will include the Cleveland Convention Center and the campuses of Cleveland State, Case Western Reserve, and Akron universities.

After the competition is over, the games truly begin for a region promoting itself as a national destination.

“This is a chance for people to see us as alive, vibrant, and welcoming,” Rosenstein says. “For a small, middle-American city to host the Gay Games is a powerful testimony.”

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