Pictured above: Kathy Brooks (city of Miami Beach), Danny Spring (South Beach Insurance), George Neary (Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau), Steve Adkins (Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce), and Bill Talbert (president and CEO, Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau).
Steve Adkins arrived at the Human Rights Conference in Miami Beach a few minutes late that Friday, May 26. Like most people in the city, he was excited for the Memorial Day weekend ahead, when the World OutGames 2017 would be in full swing, welcoming athletes and volunteers from all over the globe.
As president and CEO of the Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, Adkins was aware what the OutGames meant for the city. Of course, Miami, Miami Beach, and the surrounding area are already known for events of this magnitude, like the Winter Party, White Party, and Pride, but the OutGames are a whole other beast. It would give the area and its LGBT residents an international microphone. And the enthusiasm was contagious.
When Adkins walked into the conference, the room was silent. The athletes, many of whom had just gotten off the plane, were shocked, defeated, and angry. He saw Matti Bower, former mayor of Miami Beach, stunned and speechless. He asked several people what had happened, and they told him organizers had just announced the OutGames had been canceled.
The news took local officials and advocates by complete surprise. Up until that Friday, the Chamber of Commerce had had meetings with the OutGames staff, and although it was clear there were financial issues, it was never disclosed to the chamber in a way that would alarm anyone -- much less give reason to suspect the games would be canceled.
The Human Rights Conference, for the most part, had been paid for, as had other cultural events planned that week, Adkins says. Those participating in these events were present, the space was reserved, and they was moving forward. What was truly lost were the sporting events.
"All of us looked over at the faces of the athletes and [saw] how visibly upset they were and obviously in shock," Adkins tells The Advocate. "All of us said, 'Well, we just can't allow this to happen like this.'"
That's when leaders like Adkins, Bower, George Neary of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, and OutGames' former director of cultural programming Carol Coombes came together, at the conference, in a matter of minutes, to figure out how they'd be able to salvage the sports activities. "We weren't just going to stand around and do nothing," Adkins recalls.
So they began making phone calls. First, to the city of Miami Beach, and luckily city officials were all on board. City Manager Jimmy Morales gave his staff -- Graham Winick and Eva Silverstein -- the mandate to do whatever they could to make it work, which started the process of outreach to community leaders and other resources.
Meanwhile, athletes, guests, and performers, like Copenhagen-based drag performer Harley Queen, were still arriving at the airport and receiving news of the cancellation -- and some of them had no place to stay.
Adkins, Bower, Neary, Coombes, and Morales and his team had to start from scratch without any idea who OutGames organizers were corresponding with via email. Neither did they have access to sports equipment, medals, contact lists, or miscellaneous things like water, ice, towels, first aid kits, etc. All of that needed to be salvaged, including locations of the sporting events themselves. Up until that time, OutGames organizers weren't sharing any of this information. Regardless, the advocates continued to rally their troops over the next few hours.
By that afternoon, the team was getting more optimistic about finding locations for various events. But since it was a holiday weekend, a lot of the venues' managers were off work. The city as a whole was busy, so they knew if they were to pull off in three days what the OutGames organizers tried (and failed) to pull off in three years, everything had to be fully orchestrated.
What they were able to find out was that not all sports events were canceled. There were three events where the venues had been secured, and none of them were sanctioned. But the heads of various sporting associations running the activities were in town and were able to help push these events forward -- with local support, of course.
Miami swim club the Nadadores took it upon themselves to make sure the aquatic events took place without a hitch. The international soccer association also came on board and was able to move the soccer events along as seamlessly as possible. Dancing events that weren't set up to be contests were held out of the Miami airport convention center. Those that were moved forward, thanks to organizing efforts of the International dance community. The International association of gay and lesbian country western dance clubs put up 30,000 dollars to gain entry to the venue while also raising nearly 15,000 more in the course of 12 hours to cover other expenses, including cost for judges, the floors, and sound/lighting.
While these venues were secured, the next task was to find locations for basketball, tennis, volleyball, and field hockey. After constant communications between Adkins's team, the city, and various other networks, basketball was scheduled at the Scott Rakow Youth Center in Miami Beach, while tennis, field hockey, and the soccer finals went to Flamingo Park, and beach volleyball to Lummus Park, located on the beach, which was secured with the help of the city. Indoor volleyball ended up at the University of Miami, and table tennis went to the Broward Table Tennis Club. Badminton wound up at Shula's Hotel and Golf Club in Miami Lakes, a few miles off the beach.
On top of location scouting, the team had to arrange transportation and locate all other items needed to run the games. That's when the real work began. By this point it was just hitting Saturday morning.
"I [called] the OutGames staff and I said, 'You guys are gonna have to help me because I have no idea who you have been talking to, I have no idea who you've been coordinating these with, and who the heads of the sports associations are going to be here,'" Adkins explains. "To the degree they could, they provided that information, but that was about all they were able to do because they had no money, they had no influence, people were pissed off at them. No one was going to talk to them. So we had to take all of this over from them so that people would feel we were legitimate and we really had our heart in the right place to try to make this work for them."
Luckily, Adkins and his team were able to get email addresses from a contact person at the World OutGames to start appropriate communication, and by Sunday, basketball was up and running.
At this point, volunteers were flooding the phones at the Chamber of Commerce as word got out that OutGames had been canceled and local organizers were trying to save the event. Jorge Richa and Scott Bader, both from the chamber, ended up planning all the efforts with beach volleyball and outdoor volleyball -- they even substituted in the games when players didn't show up.
Robert Legere, who runs Rent-a-Bartender, called and said he'd be able to secure ice, water, vodka, and bartenders if needed. He also sent a list of all the things he was able to donate as well as names of other venues who might have extra supplies. Legere also reached out to Matt Anzueto from Pridelines, a local LGBT organization, who ended up being a valuable volunteer, getting renowned gay bar the Palace to donate food and ice, which prompted a series of phone calls to other venues. The other two beach bars, Score and Twist, also donated water, ice, and personnel.
Businessman Miik Martorell, who runs Pride Fort Lauderdale, volunteered to furnish the games with medals as well as a van so volunteers could deliver goods and other items to the various sporting events throughout the area -- all of which were taking place simultaneously.
Donors began contributing money so volunteers could buy food, which proved to be a huge help. Other volunteers donated their time and expertise, such as Rafael Gutierrez, who worked for free from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. setting up audiovisual equipment for the Human Rights Conference. It also turned out that many of the performers for the cultural activities planned throughout the week had not been paid, and the Human Rights Conference presenters' rooms had not been paid for, as was promised. Roger Thompson, a local supporter, stepped in and donated the money to cover these costs.
Juan Sanchez, the Miami Beach Police Department's LGBT liaison, helped run security. And thanks to the help from Out Miami Foundation, an online link was created where all sports events could submit their needs to one location and use it to reach out for volunteers and support.
Over time, it became clear that the work of Adkins's team was paying off, as athlete's morale began to improve. "It went from deep depression and anger to elation," Adkins shares. "Literally, this is what they were here for. They were here to have a good time, they were here because they wanted to meet other athletes in their sport. They wanted community involvement. They wanted to participate and play their sport, and when given that opportunity, it satisfied the goal that they had come here believing they were going to be able to achieve. And as a result of that, the rest of the week kind of fell into place."
That was affirmed the following Wednesday when the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau and the city of Miami Beach hosted a party at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden for all the athletes. Across the board, Adkins says, participants from around the world expressed this sentiment: "This is what we are here for. This is the experience we wanted to have and why we came."
By the end of the week, tears were turned into laughter and broken hearts into helping hands. If you ask Adkins and the other volunteers, they'd tell you it's merely a reflection on the city of Miami Beach.
"[Miami Beach] is a very supportive community," Adkins says. "It's a very diverse community. We have a history of philanthropy. Almost all of our major international outreach endeavors, whether they be the circuit parties or the fundraising dinners or whatever, they have a component of philanthropy. The reason why we do these things is to give back to the community. This was definitely in line with that same spirit of trying to give back."
Thanks to Steve Adkins, Matti Bower, Lori Lynch, Carol Coombes, Jimmy Morales, Graham Winick, Eva Silverstein, Maria Hernandez, Jorge Rocha, Scott Bader, Robert Legere, Matt Anzueto, Miik Martorell, Rafael Gutierrez, Bill Talbert, Dave Cook, Robin Schwartz, Liebe Gadinsky, Victor Gimenez, Jaime Bayo, Score, Twist, the Palace, George Neary, Roger Thompson, and countless others, OutGames was saved.
Below is a list of those who helped make it possible. Of course, there are countless more.
Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber: Steve Adkins, Jorge Richa, Scott Bader
The Hub at the LGBT Visitor Center: Lori Lynch
Planet Printer: Miik Martorell, owner
Pridelines: Matt Anzueto.
Out Miami Foundation: Jaime Bayo, volunteer coordinator for all sports.
Pride Collective of Miami-Dade: Caitlin Wood, Lisa Mercado, Tommy Gomez, Larry Chidsey, Victor Gimenez
City of Miami Beach: Jimmy Morales, city manager; Graham Winick, film and event production manager; Eva Silverstein, director of tourism
City of Miami Beach Police Department: Detective Juan Sanchez
Solicitor of Donations: Robin Schwartz
Financial Donors: Roger Thompson, Liebe Gadinsky