After officially securing the 2016 Republican National Convention for its home town, the Cuyahoga County Republican Party turned to welcome a less conventional group of people to the city: attendees of the ninth Gay Games.
It’s the first time that Cleveland and neighboring Akron have hosted the Gay Games, an athletic event that has taken place every four years since 1982 as a way to unite and empower LGBT athletes and their supporters.
The participation of the Cuyahoga GOP will also mark the first major outreach by local Republican officials to the LGBT community – and hints at the inclusion they plan as the hosts of the 2016 convention.
Rob Frost, the chairman of the Cuyahoga Country Republicans, said the group will have a booth at the games and will be handing out water bottles with the word “refreshing” on them.
“We hope people do find it refreshing,” he said. “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.”
Frost said the games are the beginning of a long-term outreach effort to show voters not typically associated with the GOP that they are welcome in the tent.
“The Republican Party needs to work harder at communicating that message, and we’re going to be working the week of the Gay Games in Cleveland to make sure that people do feel welcome,” he said. “What we’re about is adding and not subtracting from the party.”
An estimated 9,000 people will participate in about 35 events at the Gay Games, which wraps up Saturday, and more than 20,000 are expected to attend the games, according to the event Web site.
Since becoming chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC) in 2011, Reince Priebus has urged his fellow Republicans to take a softer tone on the issue of gay marriage and to be more tolerant of views that may not align perfectly with the party platform. The current RNC platform opposes gay marriage. The 2012 convention in Tampa was the first time that the RNC invited gay Republican groups such as the Log Cabin Republicans to participate in the national party confab.
But as the Cuyahoga GOP moves to reach out, other Ohio Republican efforts could undermine the work to improve its image in the LGBT community.
A federal court in Cincinnati held hearings Aug. 6 on challenges to same-sex marriage bans in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee, and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine (R) has pledged to vigorously defend the bans.
“These cases are really not about whether same sex marriage should be permitted at all,” Dewine said in an interview with the Cincinnati Enquirer last week. “They’re really about who should decide important policy decisions – voters at the voting box or judges in the courtroom.”
Ohioans voted to implement the Defense of Marriage Act in 2004.
Still, Frost said the outreach has to start somewhere.
“We’re able to perhaps change some perceptions. It’s not necessarily about changing minds, but certainly about changing perceptions of how people view the Republican Party,” he said. “If we can expand the tent, we win elections. This is what this is about. Building a bigger, broader, more diverse Republican Party.”