Orlando's Continues Push for Gay Games 2018

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The mayor wants them. The local tourism board wants them. The community wants them. In fact, even the President of the United States wants them.

More and more people are stepping up to bring the Gay Games to Orlando in 2018, and on Feb. 28, the Orlando 2018 committee will submit its proposal to the Federation of Gay Games to make its case for the City Beautiful as the host of the largest LGBT and allied sporting event in the world.

According to Mikael Audebert of Converge, a visitor's bureau focused on LGBT travel, the chances are good that the federation could award Orlando with the task of producing the games in 2018. He's convinced that the city's infrastructure and its location as a top tourist destination will help land the games.

"Orlando has all the appeal of bringing in and taking the games to the next level," Audebert explained. "It's important that the games grow. Looking at the numbers in the past, you'll see that they've remained the same. For 20 years attendance stays between 9,000 and 12,000. We want to reach out to more populations and boost those numbers."

Audebert said that by reaching out to the Latin American community, for example, the numbers could jump significantly. He is also convinced that the infrastructure already in place in Orlando could support the larger numbers.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer agrees.

"We have more hotel rooms than any city in America," Dyer said. "We bring in 55 million visitors a year and we are fully capable of handling an event of this scale."

Dyer cited the Amway Center and the renovations of the Citrus Bowl as two examples of already-in-place structures that could easily handle Gay Games events.

"The Gay Games don't have as wide an array of events as the Olympics, but we have the sporting facilities to host those competitions," Dyer said.

Brian Martin, corporate communications director with VisitOrlando also feels like the Gay Games is a perfect fit for Orlando.

"When Converge (the LGBT visitors bureau) contacted us about the Gay Games, we thought it was a no-brainer," Martin said. "We do large events on a regular basis and bringing 100,000 people here for a convention isn't unheard of for us. We're experts at that."

Even President Barack Obama has weighed in on the importance of securing the Gay Games for Orlando in 2018. In a letter sent to the organizing committee, Obama touted Orlando's attractions and the city itself as an ideal location for the Gay Games.

"Orlando's vibrant tourism industry makes it ideally suited to host a record-breaking number of more than 200,000 attendees—including over 14,000 athletes—and the city would be honored to provide the guest and athletes a wonderful, unique experience. I strongly support Orlando's bid, and I urge the Federation of Gay Games to approve it."

One of five
Of course, even with Obama's strong support, 2018 isn't a lock for Orlando just yet. The city is facing some tough competition from some impressive international destinations. London, Paris, Amsterdam and Limerick all have proposals into the Federation of Gay Games. Orlando is the only North American city still in the running.

"We are the number one tourist destination in the world," explained Gabrielle Shulruff, with Orlando2018. "We have a lot of different elements that other cities don't have."

And surprisingly, Orlando's status as an underdog in this fight could actually increase its chances for the 2018 games, Audebert said.

"Interestingly, the favored places aren't always all the way there with LGBT rights," Audebert said. "The games have helped cities move forward in that regard. We saw just a few weeks ago that Florida still has a long way to go with the vote in Hillsborough County rejecting a domestic partner registry."

Bringing an event the size of the Gay Games to Orlando would put a lot of focus on human rights throughout the state, Audebert said, and could change some minds throughout the community and in some elected offices.

Orlando and Orange County, of course, are further along when it comes to equality than Hillsborough County. Mayor Dyer enacted a domestic partnership registry in late 2011 that allowed Orlando residents to gain a handful of protections beginning in January of 2012. Orange County followed suit later in the year.

"I'm all about our community being known as aggressive and tolerant," Dyer said. "What better way to show that than to host an event of this sort?"

Audebert also said his confidence in Orlando landing the games is boosted by the location of the city. Never before have the Gay Games been held as far south as Orlando in the Western Hemisphere, and the attractions that bring millions of tourists here every year are just an added bonus.

"Sure, people will come for the games, but their friends, family and loved ones will also want to come to experience the parks and other attractions we have here waiting for them," Audebert said. "It is truly a destination that can help build the Gay Games."

The economics of the games
From a numbers standpoint, bringing the Gay Games to Orlando makes sense. By just planning for the games, several dozen jobs would be created in the city and countless more part-time jobs would develop as the date of the games approached.

"Obviously the biggest benefit is the economic benefit the games would have," Dyer said. "It's estimated the potential for 50,000 room nights, 36,000 visitors and an economic impact of $23 million."

And since the Gay Games targets LGBT travelers, the potential economic impact could actually be larger, according to VisitOrlando.

Martin said that studies consistently show that the LGBT community stays in destinations longer and spends more in those locations.

"We see a benefit across the destinations when it comes to LGBT travel," Martin said. "Family and friends would spend money and time at attractions outside of the Gay Games. That's why this is such a good fit for us. At some destinations you would go to the games and an event and that would be it. In Orlando you come here and see so much more!"

Not just gay athletes
The Gay Games may have "gay" in their title, but the Federation has made it very clear that the games aren't limited to only LGBT athletes. Straight athletes are always welcome to participate.

While the Olympics technically support diversity of all kinds, the cities and countries in which it holds it's games aren't always tolerant of that diversity.

For example, the 2014 Winter Olympics slated for Sochi, Russia, have already sparked controversy in that country because of its intolerance of LGBT people. While LGBT athletes may compete, the chances of them feeling comfortable sharing celebratory moments with their loved one are diminished in such an environment.

"The biggest criticism the Gay Games gets is, 'Why not just have the gays participate in the Olympics?" Audebert said. "Why do we have to segregate ourselves?"

In London, 18 openly gay athletes participated out of an estimated 15,000. Just because a few disclosed their personal relationships doesn't make the Olympics an open and affirming event, Audebert said.

"The Gay Games allows athletes to participate at an international level about worrying about that," Audebert explained. "It's a chance to compete among others who enjoy sports without fear of being judged or criticized based on your sexuality—gay or straight."

Shulruff said she can relate to those who have been discriminated in sports, simply because she's a woman.

"I was on a co-ed soccer team and I was the only girl," she remembered. "It took talking to my coaches and making a ruckus to say something to stop the bulling on my middle school team. There is discrimination in sport, and that's a major element as to why the Gay Games are so important."

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