Should the Gay Games Choose a Gay-Friendly City?

picture-119Who will host the 2014 Gay Games? Three cities – Cleveland, Washington D.C. and Boston – submitted final bids, certainly hoping to cash in on the estimated $50-$80 million the event brings in. That’s money Chicago benefited from when it hosted the Games in 2006.

Originally called the Gay Olympics, the Gay Games has been around since 1982, making it one of the gay community’s most enduring institutions. (Which is all a very polite way of saying it’s the best excuse to watch men’s gymnastics you’ll ever have.) But there’s controversy on the field among this year’s candidates, with some arguing that Boston, home of gay marriage and equal rights, should be the natural winner and that Cleveland, whose city council created a domestic partner registry for gay city employees to show that the city is gay-friendly, is just not gay-friendly enough to earn our gay dollars. Who knew political tug-of-war was an Olympic event?

All things being equal, Cleveland should get the event specifically because it’s not a happy gay wonderland. One of the more irritating aspects of the gay community is our tendency to think that we only exist in big liberal cities on the coast, but yes, Chelsea, there are homosexuals in Cleveland, too. If we’re going to decry protest marches that never leave the gay ghetto, we should embrace the idea that the Gay Games is far more valuable as a teaching tool than it is as a moneymaker.

Fortunately, the Gay Games organizers agree. Kelly Stevens, a board member, told Spangle Magazine:

“If we only choose the gayest cities in the United States, we’ve made a mistake,” Stevens says. He cites the federation’s choice for its 2008 annual meeting: Cape Town, South Africa, a place he calls gay-friendly, “Yet it is a place where lesbians, especially black lesbians, are routinely raped in an effort to make them heterosexual.”

picture-38The Cleveland bid is especially poignant, because it’s not spearheaded by a visitor’s bureau or chamber of commerce–it’s a community driven campaign created by local LGBT groups. Sure, it’s Cleveland, a city most famous for the fact that its river used to catch on fire, but who doesn’t love an underdog?

In the wider scheme of things, the current bidding process is a clear-cut reminder of the choice facing the gay community: Either we reach out to places beyond our usual reach and empower gays and lesbians in small cities and towns across the U.S. (because after all, these are the people who stand the best chance of changing their neighbors minds) or we keep to the safe but constricted confines of our gay ghettos. The athletes at the Gay Games will reach for the gold. The least we can do is reach out beyond our comfort zone.