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Miami Beach LGBT community rises to the occasion for the defunct OutGames

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Athletes bonded over OutGames debacle.

Track and field athletes came together to put on a meet in Miami despite the disastrous management of GLISA and the OutGames.
Chad Calais

Wanting the entire OutGames to be completed, so that I can write my summary article, was agonizing.

Agonizing because despair slowly turned to exhilaration as the week progressed and the excitement that the OutGames participants were starting to experience was inspirational.

Saying that the OutGames was a success would be a serious blunder, as the organization of the games, the delivery of the product as a whole, and the communication of the event, were all total disasters.

Where OutGames and GLISA dropped the ball, and that ball was dropped all over Miami, the community of Miami Beach, the city of Miami, the county of Miami/Dade, the international LGBT community and volunteers from a variety of organizations and establishments made the OutGames a memorable experience.

The experience did not culminate in the best gay athletic experience that one could have, but the personal relationships that were established due to mutual circumstances and overcoming obstacles and adversity were what made the OutGames a great adventure.

The Miami community — LGBT and otherwise — through their many organizations like Parks and Recreation, took the baton where the OutGames/GLISA organizers dropped it and gave the participants a truly positive experience.

As a former professional runner and professional running coach, I have been to many events, including the Olympic Trials. Watching events begin to fall apart usually leads to the event becoming a disaster; Once things start to go bad, the focus becomes solely on the negative, which creates an avalanche of issues.

Yet something happened in Miami Beach last week that is indicative of the LGBT spirit and resolve. The LGBT community has had many challenges, so the fighting spirit and the ability to rise to any situation is just part of the lifeline of the LGBT community. That was visible in South Beach. Groups organized themselves to have events, both social and athletic. In the marathon, just three individuals ran, but they did run.

When that fateful OutGames email went out on Friday, May 26 signifying that the OutGames would not have opening ceremonies or any OutGames-sponsored social events, and only three sports would take place, devastation for many travelers ensued. Having spoken to hundreds of both domestic and international athletes, most of them were dumbfounded at first, but then started to plan events or look for events to participate in.

Some found those events on a website that the city of Miami Beach started. The Parks and Recreation Department, or just volunteers from across the city, were going to stage events. By Friday, June 2, the majority of the participants in the OutGames had participated in both athletic and social events.

The reception at the Miami Beach Botanical Gardens where we listened to local administrators talk about the importance of the LGBT community was extremely on point, as well as appreciated by all who were in attendance. The events that were scheduled at the clubs by various organizations were great as well, but the highlight was the closing ceremonies that were organized primarily by Miami volunteers and the city of Copenhagen, Denmark. Yes, Denmark! It was truly amazing.

I stayed in the same hotel as the congregation from Denmark and these guys are truly unbelievable. They had to put together a three-hour program in under 48 hours and they did it superbly. It was a great night to conclude the OutGames week.

Through all of the competition, events, and social activities, I did not see, nor did anyone I spoke with see, anyone representing OutGames (besides the initial registration at the rented office foyer) or anyone from GLISA. This was a week that was organized by everyone in attendance at the OutGames.

Personally, I competed in the track and field events that were organized by Giampiero Mancinelli from Italy. Giampi put together an unbelievable two days of races and great camaraderie amongst all in attendance.

I was able to speak to Frankie Ruiz, who is a well-known endurance event organizer from Miami. Frankie was hired to put on all endurance events, such as the marathon, road races, track and field events, and triathlon. Frankie has unbelievable experience in organizing great events.

Speaking with Frankie, it was evident that he was not getting any money to pay for vendors, food or equipment from organizers leading up to the OutGames. The only reason these vendors held out so long was because of the great relationship they had with Frankie. Frankie did email OutGames on Monday, May 22 to give them an ultimatum that if he did not get any money to pay for upfront costs, vendors, equipment, and permits that he would have to pull out of the event. Frankie never heard back from OutGames and ultimately had to pull out of those events.

The main point is that OutGames knew from May 22 that they should have sent out an email canceling those events, but they did not. That kind of embarrassment and fraudulent actions are what caused three former presidents of GLISA to write a letter to the current board of directors for GLISA asking for the organization to dissolve. This was a bold move, but it is the correct move. An organization responsible for this type of travesty should not be allowed to organize other events.

What started out as high anticipation for the OutGames led to utter disappointment the minute many travelers stepped off the tarmac at Miami International Airport.

But the LGBT community and the city of Miami did what they always do and turned this into a unique and inspirational experience for all who were in attendance. Let’s just hope that France’s Gay Games 2018 will be managed like Cleveland’s Gay Games 2014. If not, the LGBT community will be there again to create another great impromptu event.

Chad Calais can be reached via email at chadc2016@gmail.com.