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LGBT-focused OutGames sporting event scheduled for St. Louis canceled

The North America Outgames in St. Louis would have featured several running events, including half and full marathons, as well as softball and swimming.
Courtesy STL Equality Games, LLC
The North America Outgames in St. Louis would have featured several running events, including half and full marathons, as well as softball and swimming.

The 3rd North America OutGames, which was to be held in St. Louis around Memorial Day weekend, has been canceled due to low registration numbers and lacking financial support.

The quadrennial event, scheduled for May 28 to June 4, was to have featured sporting competitions from softball to volleyball to rock climbing, as well as human rights conferences and cultural celebrations. Licensing body GLISA-North America chose St. Louis years ago to host the event.

Organizers with STL Equality Games, LLC, the group responsible for putting on the event, said they "did not have the funds or the participation necessary to carry it through."

Board member Todd Ackerman said his group got financial commitments they included in their initial hosting pitch, but those were later "deferred with assurances that they would come through."

"Kind of at the 11th hour we learned that those commitments were going to be unavailable to us," he said. "We didn’t get the actual tangible support up front. If we did this again, lesson learned is to get the tangible resources up front."

Past OutGames have gotten upwards of 1,300 participants, with early registration topping 500. But Ackerman said as a result of the financial issues, marketing wasn't as "robust" as it could have been and fewer than 500 people registered two months out.

Without assurances about participation and finances, organizers had to give people who had registered enough time to cancel their plans, he said. Paid registrants will receive a refund.

But Greg Larocque, president of the OutGames' licensing body, GLISA-North America, said he doesn't know what else the St. Louis team could have done.

"They worked like dogs to plan the event and to get people interested, and I think circumstances, short term circumstances, did not favor them," he said.

Those circumstances included competition from other sporting events, timing the games at the end of the school year, and people putting off committing to participating in the games.

"There’s something in my community called 'last minute-itis -— people who will wait for the last minute to register for anything," he said. "These are not people who buy box seats at the symphony; they'll wait until the program is announced and then they'll buy."

Larocque also said people also may have felt like they didn't need to participate in the "Equality Games" because the U.S. Supreme Court had legalized same-sex marriage.

"The American community says, 'Oh, we finally have equality.' I don't think so. All you have to do is look at legislation in North Carolina to believe equality isn't there yet," he said.

That law banned North Carolina cities from adopting local non-discrimination ordinances. In Missouri, the Senate recently passed a so-called "religious liberty bill," which allows clergy and business owners to refuse services to same-sex weddings.

Ackerman said those issues typically would have otherwise attracted people to attend the games because "those topics were slated to be discussed" during the human rights conferences. But he said his board got nothing but support from the City of St. Louis in planning the event.

"The city was an incredible partner in this, from the actual administration - Mayor Slay - to the CVC [Convention & Visitors Commission], it was an incredible partnership," he said. 

While he said he was disappointed by this "painful decision" to cancel this year's event, Larocque also praised St. Louis' hospitality.

"The support was amazing," he said. "The support was so generous and so accommodating; it really was an amazing effort by all the people I knew there, and I think you have a wonderful city to be proud of."

He said the OutGames will continue in 2020, but future games will likely include "cost-offsetting" sports like soccer tournaments that can draw a lot of participants. 

Follow Stephanie on Twitter: @slecci

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