Photo by Shane Wynn
This summer, Northeast Ohio will attract worldwide attention when the Gay Games arrive in Akron and Cleveland.
Thomas Nobbe, executive director of the Gay Games 9, has been involved in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) sports for years and has grown up in the region. That’s why he feels so strongly about bringing the games to Akron in August.
Launched in 1982 in San Francisco, the Gay Games are a sporting and cultural event held every four years in cities around the world, such as Chicago, Vancouver, Sydney and Cologne. All athletes are invited to participate, regardless of sexual orientation, race, gender, religion, nationality, ethnic origin, political beliefs, athletic or artistic ability, age, physical challenge or health status.
Cleveland and Akron will host 35 sports and culture events. Sports will be as varied as softball, track and field, soccer and swimming to rodeo, bowling, volleyball and rowing. Cultural competitions will include choral and band performances.
Nobbe recently talked with akron life magazine about what athletes, volunteers and sports fans can expect.
Why were the Gay Games created?
TN: They were founded by Tom Waddell, an Olympic decathlete who participated in the 1968 Summer Olympics. He felt it was a great experience for him but something was missing because he couldn’t be out. He was afraid to be out and really bringing his whole self to that, so he thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be really cool to have an Olympics-type event for anyone so people could feel safe and feel they could bring their whole self to compete in a safe environment?’
Who can participate?
TN: Currently we have people registered from 24 countries and participants signed up from 45 different states. People think because it’s called the ‘Gay Games,’ it’s only for the LGBT community, which is not at all what the games are about.
The games are about diversity, so anyone is welcome to participate, and we predict there will be many more non-LGBT participants in these games because of the collaboration we’re already seeing in the region alone. We will get people from ages 18 to 80 participating.
Why have you become involved with the games?
TN: I’ve been involved in a lot of different aspects in the community. This is pretty much a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it’s quite an honor to be involved. I’m passionate about the region and passionate about making our community seen in a way they might not particularly have been through sports.
TN: They chose this area over Boston and Washington, D.C., for a couple reasons. One big reason was that the cities of Akron and Cleveland stepped up and said, ‘We support having these games here,’ so that was huge.
There’s a governing body called the Federation of Gay Games, and they solicit bids for the games, narrow those bids down to three locations, visit those locations and vote on which city they think should host. As far as they were concerned, this region pulled out all the stops to show how much they really, really wanted the games.
How many participants are you expecting?
TN: We’re projecting about 10,000 participants, and many of those will bring friends and family so you could add on another 10,000 or 15,000.
And we’re looking at 3,000 to 3,500 volunteers. We have a very strong volunteer program already in place. They can sign up on our website, and we have a volunteer management system where, based on their interest, we can assign them specific sports, days, times and shifts.
How will hosting the games impact Akron economically?
TN: For the region, we’re estimating a $40 million economic impact, and it will be the restaurants, bars and entertainment because people will be doing other things besides competing. We’re working very hard to facilitate that so they do feel the impact, especially for our sponsors.
What do you like best about the Gay Games?
TN: It’s the experience of meeting people from around the globe who are into the same thing. … You go to a swim meet or a basketball tournament, and you see all these people and think, ‘Wow, this is so incredible,’ and they’re as intense as any other athlete. It’s a very affirming experience, and you tend to keep those friendships because of the bond that you have.
/ Writer Caitlyn Callahan is a senior at KSU working on her bachelor’s in magazine journalism.
Email them to managing editor Abby Cymerman at email@example.com.