The World OutGames Miami opened with its ‘Global LGBTQI Human Rights Conference’ Friday morning, May 26 at the Loews Hotel in Miami Beach. But by Friday afternoon, the conference was overshadowed by an email from WOG organizers that the sports programming and related ceremonies, scheduled to begin Saturday had been cancelled due to “financial challenges.
The email also informed visitors that the human rights conference, and the cultural arts programs would continue as scheduled. Those programs were directed and organized by Lynare Robbins and Carol Coombes. Robbins said she was hired as an independent contractor to organize the human rights programming.
“The women really stepped up and did their parts. They did what they were supposed to do,” Cindy Brown, former OutGames Board member, told SFGN. Brown was also part of the Miami Welcome Team that greeted conference goers on Friday.
Arriving at the Loews, Friday morning, visitors with cars were asked to pay a $40 valet fee -- $25 after validation from the conference, at the hotel or park at a nearby public garage. During check-in, on the second floor, Robbins greeted guests with a smile and a handshake and thanked them for coming.
After a continental breakfast, Robbins and OutGames volunteers brought visitors into the Americana Ballroom where they were greeted by the Miami Welcome Team, the first panel of the morning, at 8 a.m.
In addition to Cindy Brown, the team included Tony Lima of SAVE, Robin Schwartz chairman of the LGBT Advisory Committee for Miami Beach, and Lori Lynch Executive Director of the Miami-Dade Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (MDGLCC).
Brown welcomed early morning conference goers to the city, and emphasized the focus of the conference – global and international efforts toward human rights.
“From the beginning when I was asked to participate I said my interest was in the human rights conference, culture is great, sports [are] great, but what I want to do is focus all my energy on human rights and put together a conference that really addresses the issues that we all face internationally,” Brown said.
Guest speakers included Moninne Griffith, who discussed the struggles of LGBT youth and bullying in Catholic Ireland. Tamara Adrian who talked about her fight to pass LGBTQI equality laws in the Venezuelan National Assembly. Nadine Smith of Equality Florida who touched upon gun culture and gun violence in the wake of Pulse. Shane Ortega who talked about his fight for LGBT soldiers to be recognized and serve openly in the U.S. armed forces. And many others who shared their struggles, stories, and resources over the three-day conference.
Brown lauded the efforts of Robbins, and of former OutGames co-director Jim Wilets, for keeping the international focus on the conference. Brown, along with former Miami Beach Mayor Matti Herrera Bower, were part of the core group who attended the games in Antwerp in 2013 to make the bid for Miami.
The first indication to visitors that the Memorial Day weekend might present a challenge came during a brief safety and security presentation from Detective Juan Sanchez, LGBT Liaison and Dan Oates Chief of Police for Miami Beach.
“We want to tell you, it’s an unusual weekend for us, for those who don’t know Miami Beach, the Memorial Day weekend is traditionally the busiest weekend for the year in terms of visitors, in fact it is such a busy weekend, that we actually borrow police officers from around the county to help police South Beach,” Oates said.
“The other thing that’s going on this weekend and this is brand new for us is the Air & Sea Show. They’re going to be flying from noon on Saturday to 3:30, and on Sunday, so if you’re sitting here in the conference you may hear some interesting noises -- they’re actually going to be practicing later this afternoon –- that is a new event for Miami Beach, we don’t know how many people we’re going to get, we could get a 100,000 people on the beach, so it’s an unusual weekend for us.”
That afternoon, after practice for the Air & Sea show started, guest speakers in the second-floor salons were occasionally interrupted by the sound of aerial maneuvers.
In addition to outside interference, there seemed to be a lack of volunteers to set up audio and video for guest speakers. Many presenters dealt with sound issues, malfunctioning microphones, too much reverberation in the large empty salons, or no microphones at all.
Conference-goers, shouted their assistance to guest speakers from across the ballrooms. “Hold the microphone to your mouth and keep it there!” Herrera Bower said to Shane Ortega. “You need to enunciate; we can’t understand you!” another attendee advised Tamara Adrian.
The situation was almost comical, until the email announcing the sports cancellations went out to registrants Friday at noon. There was no announcement made regarding the cancellation on the OutGames website or on social media until a Facebook post Monday, May 26 at noon.
OutGames organizers estimated 2,000 athletes would be arriving from more than 60 countries, along with more than 40,000 spectators. What the final numbers were have yet to be confirmed at time of publication. Many of the athletes had flown into Fort Lauderdale and Miami on Thursday, or were arriving at advertised host hotels in the area Friday. They had all submitted registration fees in various amounts months in advance.
“For the board to cancel everything on the first day of the actual event is unforgivable,” Colin Bodels, registered to race in the half marathon, told SFGN via email. “I have friends in the air over the Atlantic flying in from Sweden, Belgium, the UK and elsewhere. This is unconscionable and smacks of not (disorganization) but greed and reading more and more like a scam to get money. I'm looking forward to seeing/hearing how they respond to requests for refunds or fraud.”
Friday night the opening ceremony for the human rights conference, originally scheduled at the National hotel, was instead held at the Loews, without announcement. A memo from Miami Beach City manager Jimmy Morales on Thursday night detailed, among other financial challenges, that OutGames organizers owed the National $57,000, the Miami Herald reported. The Miami Beach police, and the Florida State Attorney’s office announced they would be investigating OutGames organizers over misappropriation of funds.
Saturday starting at 7 a.m. with the Air & Sea show and Urban Beach Week in full swing, the Memorial Day weekend traffic plan also went into effect. Ocean Drive was closed to all vehicular traffic, Collins Avenue became one-way northbound, and Washington Avenue became one-way southbound. Law enforcement resources, already stretched thin, redirected traffic along the intersections, making movement among the different venues difficult for conference goers, guest speakers, and still arriving athletes. Congestion was so heavy, Uber waived cancellation fees apologizing for delays in the area.
Athletes who had previously been told that main registration would be at the National Hotel, were also being slowly rerouted to the Loews. By Friday afternoon most of the athletes had followed the series of “OutGames registration relocated” signs through the first and second floors of the Loews, to the “New York” rooms, to find out that their events had been cancelled.
Reporters from the Miami Herald captured Facebook live video of OutGames athletes asking Cano for answers in the relocated offices before Cano quietly closes the door on reporters.
Robbins told SFGN she had no prior notice that the sports programming would be cancelled, but after the announcement she resigned from her position, but continued on as a volunteer to help with rescheduling events and assisting international travelers.
Throughout the weekend, the cultural arts programming and human rights conference continued.
In addition to Robbins, Brown said the volunteer efforts of Tori Bertran, Melba de Leon, Augusta Zimmerman, and Jennifer Love, who all helped with the conference, also deserved to be recognized.
Sunday morning the closing brunch for the human rights conference, changed from a back patio outdoor affair at the Loews, to an indoor brunch. But the evening concluded with a happy hour at the poolside lounge.
On Monday, an OutGames Facebook post reiterated that the sports programming had been cancelled, but 24 hours later another post announced that volunteer efforts to reschedule and host the sporting events were underway.
The City of Miami Beach along with the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau (GMCVB) and the Miami Dade Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (MDGLCC) collaborated with organizers to reschedule the week’s events throughout Miami.
Chairman of the LGBT Advisory Committee for Miami Beach Robin Schwartz also recognized the efforts of the GMCVB in making the best out of the situation.
“I don't know what caused the failure of the WOG Miami organization to deliver what they promised. I do know that I am extremely proud to have been a part of the LGBTQ community pulling together to make lemonade out of lemons,” Schwartz said.
“I know everyone wants to know what happened to cause the last-minute cancellation. I believe we need to wait for the investigation to be complete to get that answer. For now, we do know that despite everyone's shock over the last-minute cancellations, we all stayed focused on doing what was possible to give the athletes sporting events in which to compete, spaces to celebrate and show that the City of Miami Beach and the community here welcome them with open arms.”
The Board of Directors for the Miami Beach LGBT Sports and Cultural League Inc. (World OutGames) includes:
- Bruce Townsend, President
- Ivan Cano, Vice President,
- Keith Hart, Treasurer,
- Jerry Torres, Secretary,
- George Neary
- Nick Tierno
The website lists Cano as Chief Executive Officer, Hart as Chief Operating Officer, and Jordan Selders as Director of Sports. The Facebook page also lists Marc Brown.
The office address is 1210 Washington Ave, Suite 220, MB. The phone number is 786-276-9559.