Interview by Craig Williams
Ted Wammes works for equality by day and inclusion by evenings and weekends
City: Cleveland, Ohio
Event: Road Races (hopeful)
Ted Wammes works for equality and inclusion personally and professionally. Earlier this month, Ted was recognized for all his efforts by the U.S. Department of Education and Cleveland Federal Executive Board.
Ted chairs the 2014 Gay Games Operations Committee and serves on the board. He spends his weekdays working for the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, which enforces federal civil rights laws prohibiting discrimination in schools and ensuring equal access to education.
"I’ve been involved with the 2014 Gay Games since planning for the site selection visit in summer 2009. I attended Cologne in 2010. In 2014, if I have time while working on operations I hope to participate in the road races,” Wammes says.
The Gay Games Operations Committee covers housing/hotels, medical, security and transportation support. It also handles medal design and production accreditation and other logistical support to put on the 2014 Gay Games.
Kudos to Ted for his professional and community service honors at the Cleveland Executive Board’s annual Wings of Excellence honors program.
Gold medal in morning, Carnegie Hall at night at '94 Games for Jerry Lewis
City: Seattle, Washington
When Jerry Lewis came out in 1991, he joined the Seattle Frontrunners Club and was accepted to sing in the Seattle Men's Chorus. "Those two organizations helped me get through the difficult transition at the time," he says.
Three years later the chorus was invited to sign at Carnegie Hall in New York City as part of Stonewall's 25th anniversary. A fellow chorus member and runner suggested Jerry register to run the 5K race for the 1994 Gay Games being held in New York at the same time. "I did not have any idea what the Gay Games was then. I decided if I was going to do it, I would follow my friend," Jerry recounts.
"We ran the morning of June 24, and to my surprise, I won a gold medal. That evening I sang with my chorus at Carnegie Hall with my medal around my neck.
"Stepping onto Carnegie Hall stage for the first time and wearing my Gay Games medal around my neck on my tuxedo was a thrill beyond words," he says. "We sang a 40-minute concert and received four standing ovations.
"I really felt a part of the gay community and was so proud to be who I was and to accomplish these things only three years after I came out."
Jerry, now 77, has participated in every Gay Games since, meeting and making friends from all over the world. The father of two daughters (marathon runners) and 11 grandchildren says competing in international meets is a dream he never envisioned as a young man. At the 2014 Gay Games, Jerry plans to enjoy the spirit of competition and doing his personal best on the track at the University of Akron.
From the beginning, Jim Hahn was there
City: San Mateo, California
In 1982, the Gay Games began in San Francisco. Jim Hahn was there and has participated in every Gay Games since.
How did you end up going to the first Gay Games?
In 1981, I went to a gay student's conference at San Francisco State University. There I met Dr. Tom Waddell, founder of the games. He convinced me that I had to participate. The thing that impressed me the most was the absolute absence of any shadow of a doubt that this was going to come off exactly as he envisioned.
I recognized the Gay Olympics as a history-making event and set about figuring out how to attend. As a poor college student, this was a challenge. I saved up $28 to buy a bowling shirt with Davis, California on the back. I arranged for housing, with a delightful man I knew as JJ.
What do you remember most about that first Gay Games?
In the procession of athletes going into Kezar stadium, I was between a billards team from Daly City, California, and another bowling team from East Palo Alto. We walked into the stadium while approximately 6,000 people stomped, clapped and jumped for joy.
Tom Waddell spoke first, but couldn't say the word Olympic as he was barred by the decision against the Gay Games by the USOC, a decision handed down by the same Judge Vaughn Walker who recently struck down Proposition 8. Another executive spoke next. Next was San Francisco Supervisor Doris Ward, acting mayor, as Dianne Feinstein and Supervisor President John Barbagelota where both conveniently out of town. She welcomed all of us to the first Gay Olympic Games. The stadium went nuts! They went nuts again when our opening act, Tina Turner, took the stage.
I bowled a 582 series for singles and placed 18th, entitling me to participate in the semi-finals. Later that day, however, I learned that my
favorite grandparent had passed away the day before. During my journey to Oregon, I ended up in a cab with some of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, including Gilbert Baker, the creator of the rainbow flag.
What do you get out of being a Gay Games participant?
What I get out of it is the sense of pride in our culture and our community and a deep sense of history.
Rob Smitherman Goes with the Games
Interviewer: Craig Williams
Rob Smitherman, associate executive director for the 2014 Gay Games Cleveland+Akron, has been following the Games for 14 years. Literally following them. He answers questions about his connection to the Games, and what he feels are the benefits and challenges surrounding them.
When did you first get involved with the Games?
My first experience was during the Amsterdam games in 1998. I was just a participant, playing basketball. I enjoyed it so much that I participated again, at GG6 in Sydney, Australia. I’d always loved sports, but I’d never actively organized any events.
So, how did you come to be employed by the Games?
I’d been working as an attorney in a small town in Virginia. After 23 years doing that, I decided I wanted to move into a different career. Around that time, I contacted my friend, Sam Coady, who was co-chair of the 2006 Gay Games in Chicago. Sam said, “Why don’t you come work for us?” So that’s what I did.
What are the most satisfying aspects of the Games for you, and what would you say to anyone thinking of participating for the first time?
The best thing about the Games is that, for the LGBT community, it connects two very important aspects of their lives: their love of sports and a celebration of their sexual identity. The biggest challenge is getting people to attend for the first time. When they do, many find that this is one of the most important events they’ve ever been involved with. That’s why people keep coming back again and again.
The Gay Games aren’t only for the LGBT community. They’re open to anyone, right?
Everyone is welcome. The important part of this for straight people is that it’s not only good fun and a chance to take part in sporting events, but there’s also a connection they can make with friends in their community. They can see the gay population isn’t made up of the stereotypes they might see on TV; we’re their neighbors. This event isn’t only about sports, it’s also about helping to promote change.
How did your affiliation with the Games continue after Chicago?
I continued working for the games, on a volunteer basis, for about a year. The eighth games were coming up in Cologne, Germany. In Chicago, I’d already met some of the German organizers, who eventually asked me to come help with their event.
What kind of experience did you have working as sports manager in Germany?
Germany was an adventure in all kinds of ways. The GG office was on Rudolfplatz, in the center of the gay area of downtown Cologne. It was wonderful, of course, but working in a foreign country can also be very lonely, especially when you aren’t familiar with the language. My college German was really rusty at first, but I managed, and it was a fantastic experience.
How did you make the transition from the Cologne games to the Cleveland+Akron Games?
I went back to Chicago for a while, but in May 2011, after Northeast Ohio was chosen to host GG9, I was asked to come to Cleveland to participate in a roundtable type discussion about the trials and successes of past games. In Cleveland, I met and began working with Tom Nobbe, who became the GG9 executive director. I knew I wanted to work as sports manager in Cleveland, and ultimately I was asked, I accepted, and moved to Cleveland. (Most recently, Rob had associate director added to his title.)
What are the benefits of Cleveland +Akron hosting the Games?
Actually, I think I may be more enthusiastic about the area than some of the natives. We won getting the Games here because of our outstanding facilities, a lot of which are only a short walk, drive or bus ride from the downtown areas. We have beaches, great art venues, Playhouse Square, West Side Market, Michael Symon, food trucks and so much more.
And what are the challenges?
Northeast Ohio is not as well known as tourist destination. A lot of people around the world don’t even know where Cleveland and Akron are. We need to let them know more about the locations and, not only introduce them to all we have to offer, but convince them they’ll enjoy themselves in Northeast Ohio for a week or so.
That shouldn’t be hard because this is a really great place to be. It’s our chance to show the world we can host a major event – a gay event – and do it successfully.
First Gay Games 9 Registrant Hails from Europe
Interviewer: Betsy O'Connell
Marathon runner Aliona Netesova, 24, was the first participant to register for the 2014 Gay Games Cleveland+Akron.
Where do you live?
Vilnius, Lithuania. Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania and its largest city.
Why are you coming to Gay Games 9 in Cleveland?
Lithuania is a post-Soviet country with a high level of homophobia. LGBT people stay in the closet, which is why support and visibility is so important. I hope that my participation in the Gay Games will help shape the LGBT sporting community in Lithuania, and to encourage gay athletes coming out. It will be a great event for me and my country. I'll be Lithuania's second gay athlete to participate in Gay Games.
What is your athletic background?
I played with a Lithuanian women's football league and represented the Lithuanian U-19. When I played football in Lithuania, I hid that I am a lesbian. Games in our country for both amateurs and professionals discourage homosexuals from participation in a large part because of the Lithuanian negative attitude about homosexuals.
I came out five years ago, and my family and friends know that I am a lesbian. By participating in Gay Games 9, I want to encourage other athletes to join our sports community and not fear coming out.
When did you run your first marathon?
I ran my first marathon on June 2 (2012) in Stockholm. I have run 5K and 10K races in the past.
Are there organizations in Lithuania helping to sponsor your trip to Gay Games 9?
I am paying my travel costs and I am coming to the games by myself.
Every participant has a story to share about why they are part of the Gay Games. Want to share your story? Contact us at info@GG9cle.com.