As the Gay Games ramp up in Ohio, the Cleveland Foundation, the presenter of the Gay Games in Cleveland and Akron, hosted openly gay Olympic medal winner Greg Louganis, who talked to the luncheon crowd about what coming out has meant for him, as well as his new documentary, Back on Board.
Cleveland City Council member Joseph Cimperman introduced the discussion by talking about how important it was for the Gay Games to come to Cleveland. For many LGBT advocates in Cleveland, bringing the Gay Games to Ohio, who banned marriage equality in 2004.
When asked about his own personal history, Louganis talked about the journey of coming out, and how he uses his presence to advocate for LGBT people around the world.
"It's important to not just stay places where you can stay safe…it is important for me to go to other areas," Louganis said.
Louganis attended the LGBT Open Games in Moscow to support LGBT people in Russia. The Open Games were held just after the Winter Olympics in Sochi, and were organized to express support for LGBT Russians through sport. The events of the LGBT Open Games were severely disrupted by last-minute canceled contracts by venues, police harassment, and vandalism.
"We had bomb threats. The members of the LGBT Russian Sports Federation faced opposition at every turn," Louganis said, speaking of his time at the Open Games in Moscow. "It got to where every event was tampered with, so that we had to meet underground in the Metro. One person had the location and it was a secret. I was so grateful to be a part of that."
Louganis spoke enthusiastically about his participation with the Gay Games. He came out at the Gay Games in New York in 1994, and used the Games to hone his story before going before national media attention with Barbara Walters and Oprah Winfrey.
"It's been a tradition for me. This is where I came out and spoke publically about my sexual identity. There is a great history here, and I want to continue that history in the spirit of [Gay Games founder] Dr. Tom Waddell," Louganis said. "It was Dr. Tom's dream to build self-esteem through sports. He wanted to help prevent teen suicide. We've come so far in the United States."
Louganis also reflected on the changing nature of the Gay Games. As LGBT equality has advanced through both through sports and in the wider culture, some have viewed events like the Gay Games as less necessary. But Louganis disagrees. He thinks that young people are less likely to adopt a label, and will be more prone to participate in an event that is open and welcomes all.
"The organizers stress that everyone is welcome. They welcome all with open arms," Louganis said. "I don't view the Gay Games as a protest, because it's inclusive. It's not about being gay. It's about inclusion. We have a lot of straight athletes who participate. It's a celebration of our commonality."
Ronn Richard, the CEO of Cleveland Foundation reminded Louganis and the crowd of how important this event is. "Our state doesn't have marriage equality or even employment equality. The Cleveland Foundation, with a history of supporting equal rights, thinks this fight is just as important as all the other fights in our 100 year history. It's not just about sports for us, it's about social justice."