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Gay Games 9 set to open Aug 9 in Cleveland

Organizers expecting 6,000 participants and more spectators

Cologne, Germany hosted the last Gay Games in 2010. Left, an image from the opening ceremony. Credit: Dmitriy Margolin

Organizers say they’re expecting 6,000 participants and 10,000 spectators in Cleveland and neighbouring Akron, Ohio for the 9th edition of the Gay Games, opening Aug 9.

The quadrennial event — which in the past has been held in cities like San Francisco, New York and Sydney — will feature more than 35 sports and cultural events.

“Northeast Ohio hasn’t been known as a tourist hotspot destination,” concedes Matt Cordish, marketing manager for the Gay Games, “but it’s beginning to receive the recognition and positive feedback it deserves.” Besides, he notes, the power of the Games lies in its ability to bring people together. “It’s about changing hearts and changing minds, not only in the heartland of America, but also around the world. “

With participants from 51 countries (and 48 of 50 US states), the Games offer sports and a lot more. “I’m coming for several reasons,” Elvina Yuvakaeva says. “It’s one of the biggest LGBT events, and not only for sport, but also culture, human rights, and socializing.”

Yuvakaeva, who is taking part in the badminton competition, is co-president of the Russian LGBT Sports Federation that organized a gay-friendly sporting event in Moscow in February, despite alleged resistance from local authorities. “I’m looking forward to the inspiration to continue my activist work. I am just about burnt out right now.”

South African Zavion Kotze might have the longest journey to the Games but it’s more than worth it. “I want to represent Africa and promote equality in my sport,” Kotze, a decathlete competing in several events, enthusiastically tells Xtra by email. “There is complete acceptance! No hate whatsoever! It’s going to be awesome!”

Clevelander Frank Zevnik is a first-time Games participant who’s looking forward to showing off his city. “I love everything the Games represents,” the 23-year-old ballroom dancer says. “Our right to compete and showcase dedication and hard work is a call for celebration. At one time, we weren’t able to do that. Besides, how many people in their life will have the chance to say they participated in the Gay Games, especially being held in their own backyard?”

Located in the middle of Cuyahoga County on the shore of Lake Erie, Cleveland is undergoing a renaissance of sorts. Historically associated with industry and manufacturing, the city is now home to an impressive theatre district and a burgeoning gastronomy scene. One thing hasn’t changed, though, and that’s Cleveland’s love affair with sports. With teams in Major League Baseball, the National Football League, and the National Basketball Association, Cleveland’s already got the facilities and the fans. Now, it’s about to get thousands of LGBT participants and celebrants.

In addition to hosting a variety of sports competitions, the Gay Games will also see parties and cultural events in the Festival Village from August 9 to 16.

“The Gay Games will showcase the international LGBT community to the heartland, and Northeast Ohio is eager and excited to host such a prominent event,” Cordish says. “The highlight, though, will be the thousands that come to the region who have never been before, who have never participated before, and who will leave Northeast Ohio with a life-changing experience that will be with them forever.”