Ten years after Ohio voters passed one of the worst anti-gay laws in the country, a downtown arena in Cleveland welcomed 10,000 athletes, fans and corporate sponsors to kick off the weeklong 2014 Gay Games.
Yes, we still have that awful law.
Yes, they came anyway.
Hope doesn’t need an invitation, and justice never waits for permission.
On Saturday, one jubilant delegation at a time, athletes from more than 50 countries and almost every state in the U.S. marched to thunderous applause on the floor of Quicken Loans Arena, which is home for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
They came from Nigeria, where this year the president signed a law that not only bans intimate relationships between members of the same sex but also criminalizes meetings for gay people.
They came from Russia, where President Vladimir Putin defended an anti-gay law by equating gay people with pedophiles and declaring his country’s need to “cleanse” itself of homosexuality.
They came from Ohio, too, where Gov. John Kasich and Attorney General Mike DeWine recently insisted the state will fight a federal court ruling that found unconstitutional Ohio’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages secured in other states.
“The people of the state, including me, voted years ago on a constitutional amendment to say that marriage is between a man and a woman,” Kasich told The Columbus Dispatch. “[The federal judge] has overruled that in some respects, and that’s what a federal judge can do. But it doesn’t change the fact of how people voted.”
Our governor has a habit of yearning for the days of yore. Early in his first term, he staged a late-night photo op with him flanked by men as he signed away a woman’s constitutionally protected right to an abortion. It is not surprising he objects to happy gay people, too.
For more than 10 years, I have been writing about the impact of Ohio’s anti-gay law and the prejudice that drove the constitutional amendment. There are as many ways to illustrate its harm as there are members of the LGBT community, but the old story has a fabulous update in the resilience of those who refused to leave.
It’s their you-will-know-us spirit that, in retrospect, made the decision to choose Cleveland for Gay Games 9 seem almost preordained.
In recent years, you could hear the hum of progress. From the Cleveland City Council’s move to enact a domestic partner registry in 2008 to polls this year showing a narrow majority of Ohioans supporting same-sex marriage, we are steadily moving in one direction, toward the light.
I will spend no energy condemning those who come late to this party – after their child comes out to them, perhaps, or when they find out a beloved friend or colleague is gay. I once thought it was OK to be a Steelers fan. Adulthood is no reason to stop growing. Whatever gets them there, I’m happy to see their attendance in an unstoppable movement.
The list of big-time sponsors of this week’s Gay Games, starting with the august Cleveland Foundation, tells a story of acceptance and inevitability. Hospitals and universities, the Cleveland Indians and Cavaliers, PNC Bank and United Airlines – the list goes on and on.
To state the obvious, supporting gay rights is good for business.
It’s good for politicians, too, which some Republicans apparently have figured out. Republican Party of Cuyahoga County Chairman Rob Frost told The Washington Post’s Jackie Kucinich about plans to host a booth at the games and hand out water bottles plastered with the word “refresh.”
“We hope people do find it refreshing,” he told Kucinich. “What a great opportunity with the Gay Games coming to Cleveland to welcome the athletes and fans, not just to the Gay Games and not just to Cleveland, but to welcome gays and lesbians to the Republican Party.”
Thousands of gay, lesbian and transgender athletes competing in the wide-open public, without fear for their safety.
Cleveland’s trademark Terminal Tower ablaze in rainbow lights as it points to the sky.
Republicans welcoming the LGBT community and giving them free stuff even.
It really does get better.
• Connie Schultz (email@example.com) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and an essayist for Parade magazine. She is the author of two books, including “...and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate.