Breaking: Gay Games leader resigns from planning group
by Matthew S. Bajko
A Gay Games leader has resigned from a planning group working on the 10th global LGBT multi-sport competition set to take place in 2018.
The resignation by Kelly Stevens from what is known as the 1 Quadrennial Event Working Group comes less than two weeks before the Federation of Gay Games board is set to vote on a memorandum of understanding between itself and the organizers of the Outgames on how to select the host of the 2018 games as well as other issues involving the event.
After years of intense squabbling between the Gay Games organizers and officials with the Gay and Lesbian International Sports Association, known as GLISA and host of the Outgames, the two competing athletic groups reached a detente last year and formed the 1QE working group to bring both groups together in hosting the 2018 event.
Stevens told the Bay Area Reporter in an interview today (Friday, December 30) that his decision to step down from the working group was largely due to the proposed agreement calling for LGBT athletes who are voting members to meet in 2013 at the Outgames hosted by Antwerp, Belgium and vote on the 2018 host city.
Doing so would break with the Gay Games' tradition of selecting the host of the quadrennial event, which would be called Gay Games - Outgames Together 2018, in the city hosting the previous Gay Games. The next event is set to take place in Cleveland, Ohio in 2014.
Picking the host city in Europe would be disastrous for the Cleveland games, argues Stevens. Not only would it diminish media attention for the next Gay Games, it would also reduce participation, said Stevens. North American athletes would be forced to attend the 2013 Outgames in order to vote on the 2018 host city, a financial cost that could make it unaffordable for them to then attend the 2014 Gay Games event, said Stevens.
Reportedly, under GLISA rules, people in that organization can vote by proxy; the Gay Games requires that voting members attend the site selection meeting and vote in person.
"I want to see us get to one event but I don't think it should be in the peril of the Cleveland Gay Games 2014," said Stevens. "The federation has its eye on 2018 and not Cleveland right now."
Kurt Dahl, the male co-president of the federation's board, did not respond to an emailed request for comment sent Friday.
Nor did Julia Applegate, a GLISA co-president, return a call seeking comment Friday.
Federation board member Doug Litwin, who oversees its marketing, said it doesn't make sense to schedule the site selection in Cleveland in 2013 when the federation will be having its 2012 annual meeting there and celebrating its 30th anniversary. It did so, said Litwin, in order to familiarize board members with the city's athletic venues and facilities and build up excitement for the 2014 games.
"In 2013 we could go back to Cleveland, but it seems dumb to do it in the same city two years in a row," said Litwin, who competes in bowling and racquetball. "This is a way with dealing with the fact a lot of people in the U.S., and especially outside the U.S., don't know Cleveland and don't know what Cleveland is all about."
Since he has yet to see the proposed agreement for the 2018 event, Litwin said he is unable to comment on it. He predicted other issues could be even more divisive during the board meeting next month than where the host city selection takes place.
"Money is a big one and how things are going to be split. The voting on various issues is also of importance and how the voting is going to be done," said Litwin. "When you have two organizations that have their own histories of doing their own events and want to get together and do one event, there are a lot of things that have to be worked out."
Stevens, the Federation of Gay Games communications co-chair, was elected to serve on the working group by federation members. In June of this year Stevens resigned from the federation board to devote himself full-time to the 1QE group.
"I felt the bigger and more important mission is the 1QE. The future of the Gay Games hinged on this agreement and I felt I needed to make it happen," said Stevens, a Seattle resident who co-chairs Team Seattle, the umbrella organization for local LGBT sports groups.
As work progressed on the document, Stevens said he became increasingly frustrated with the process as well as a lack of participation from GLISA members on the working group. He was particularly displeased with the federation following its annual meeting held this past October in Toronto.
It became clear that some federation members "will do anything to make [the 1QE agreement] happen" without ensuring the financial health of the next Gay Games, said Stevens, who expects to also resign from his federation spokesman role due to his going public with his concerns.
Stevens said that because he signed a non-disclosure agreement, there were other concerns that he could not discuss.
He is not the only one, though, speaking out against the proposed MOU for the 2018 event.
Roger Brigham, the B.A.R.'s sports columnist and a member of the federation board, shares many of Stevens's concerns about the direction the agreement for the 2018 competition is taking. While saddened to see Stevens resign, Brigham said he wasn't surprised.
"He is one of the most intelligent, engaged, and committed volunteers in the FGG and has a strong sense of the value of the sports mission and what is at stake for it in these negotiations," wrote Brigham in an emailed response. "I have repeatedly and publicly said I believe we should be taking a rather different course to work with GLISA and continue the Gay Games. But I am not on the 1QE working group and therefore my concerns have never been discussed."
Brigham added that, as an individual athlete and club leader, "my hope is that FGG board collectively can wake up in time and refocus on putting on the best Gay Games possible."
Another fellow federation board member, Gene Dermody, also echoed the concerns voiced by Stevens and Brigham. A San Francisco resident and former Gay Games co-president, Dermody said he plans to resign his board seat if the federation votes to accept the 2018 agreement as currently written when it meets January 8.
"I am very upset and will resign myself if this goes through," Dermody told the B.A.R. in a phone interview Friday. "GLISA has made no concessions whatsoever, the federation has made all the concessions."
Not only would he resign, but Dermody vowed that Wrestlers WithOut Borders, an LGBT wrestling group he founded, would withdraw as a member organization of the federation and he would push to see Team San Francisco do the same.
"We will just support Cleveland," he said. "This is disgraceful what they are trying to do here. These people are not doing what is right for the Gay Games; they are doing what is right for GLISA."
Despite his coming forward with his concerns prior to the federation's meeting, Stevens has little hope it will impact what the board decides.
"The deal is not done so my resignation is in anticipation of a disappointing result. There are still things in contention," he said. "And who knows? Maybe they will come to some better sense in this. I can only hope, but I don't think so."