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2014 Gay Games: Lessons and Legacies

Our last event for Thursday was a panel discussion at the City Club titled "2014 Gay Games: Lessons and Legacies" which was attended by a nearly filled to capacity crowd. Mr. David C. Barnett, Senior Reporter/Producer at WPCN was the moderator and the panel featured Mr. John Grafton, Board Member of the Gay Community Endowment Fund of the Akron Community Foundation; Ms. Phyllis Harris, Executive Director of the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland; Mr. Thomas Nobbe, Executive Director of the 2014 Gay Games and Michelle Tomallo, Co-Founder of FIT Technologies and President of the Board of Directors of Plexus. Before the discussion started, both Mr. Ronn Richard, President and CEO of the Cleveland Foundation, and Mr. John T. Petures, Jr. , President and CEO of the Akron Community Foundation, spoke for a moment about what Gay Games 9 (GG9) meant to them. Mr. Richard said that being able to address the crowd during closing ceremonies was one of his proudest moments as CEO of the Cleveland Foundation. Mr. Petures agreed with Mr. Richard and talked about how memorable the opening ceremonies were especially the cheers that greeted the Russian athletes.

Moving on from there, Mr. Barnett questioned the panel regarding the success of GG9 and where do we all go from there in terms of obtaining human rights for the LGBT community.

During the course of the program, Mr. Grafton said that the money in the Gay Community Endowment Fund now totals about a million dollars and he was proud that they were able to issue $360,000.00 worth of grants to LGBT-related causes as well as to other worthy projects. He talked about a lieutenant in the Akron Police Dept. who was able to organize the police and educate them as to what would happen when GG9 came to Cleveland as well as secure their commitment to diversity. In terms of the aftermath, Mr. Grafton said how impressed he was that an Akron LGBT street fair was strongly embraced by the straight community and how thrilling it was to see flags of all of the different countries that participated in GG9 displayed along with the rainbow flags.

Ms. Harris was very excited because the LGBT Center of Greater Cleveland will finally be able to move to a new location better suited for it although she is still not sure where this will be. She went on to talk about doing consciousness raising training for the local police regarding LGBT issues and how both she and the police officers were able to learn from each other. She said that one officer later told her that due to her training he was finally able to mend fences and talk to his sister who is gay. Now the Center has more requests for consciousness raising programs than they can handle. Ms. Harris said that she believed that the some of the keys to the future involved building up the LGBT Center, not being afraid to ask tough questions, challenging organizations when it is appropriate to do so, and building up leaders for the future.

Ms. Tomallo spoke about how they successfully created different sponsorship levels which was the first time this was done in the history of the gay games. Ms. Tomallo was very impressed that Sherwin-Williams donated to GG9 because this was the first time it had donated to a LGBT event in its history. In addition, many organizations and businesses came around and expressed an interest in LGBT related matters in a way that was unprecedented. Unfortunately, however, Ms. Tomallo thought that it was ironic that all of this happened in a state whose laws offer very little in terms of protection for LGBT people in terms of civil rights. Nevertheless, she maintained that we are a much broader community now and are in a position where we can ask, "what's next?" and face the future with optimism.

Mr. Nobbe told a couple of stories about how individual lives were touched by GG9. The one that especially interested us involved a Russian athlete who participated in GG9 and won several medals. She then returned to St. Petersburg intending, along with her partner, to open a dance studio targeting LGBT couples. These plans were short circuited, however, when the owner of a similar establishment was murdered. In order to be safe, the two women decided to immigrate to the United States and open their studio in Cleveland because of the way that they were warmly accepted here during GG9.

In terms of financial success, Mr. Nobbe reviewed the mixed returns from the other gay games and said that both he and his staff were determined that Gay Games 9 would finish in the black. And they succeeded too; in fact, GG9 wrapped up with $150,000.00 in the black! Eighty percent of this overage will go to the Cleveland Foundation's LGBT Legacy Fund and twenty percent will go to the Gay Community Endowment Fund of the Akron Community Foundation. Certainly Mr. Richard and Mr. Petures could not have been happier. The evening concluded with Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman presenting a special resolution to both community leaders.

If we were asked about what the legacy of GG9 should be, we would recall Mr. Richard's words when he said that we still have much work ahead of us and what we were working for is the day when we can all, regardless of our sexual orientation, hold hands in public without fear so "let's work hand in hand to make this a reality."

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