Athletes at the Gay Games in Chicago are attempting to beat a heatwave with temperatures reaching 38° C (100 ° F).
A heatwave warning has been issued in the city which saw 465 people die in 1995 from heat related illnesses.
However, organisers of the games claim that the heat will not stop athletes competing. “In the true spirit of the Gay Games movement, we ask that all pitch in to ensure each other’s safety and wellness,” the organisers said yesterday.
The games were welcomed to the city by the Chicago mayor. “We’re very proud of the gay community in our city,” Mayor Richard Daley said in an article appearing in the Chicago Tribune. “Every quality-of-life issue, the gay community has stepped forward as great leaders, and this is another example.”
His statement comes after an anti gay group announced it would protest at the event.
The Illinois Family Institute (IFI) says its campaign “Love and Truth Offensive” will present an alternative Christian message countering the Gay Games.
The kickoff, IFI says, will be a press conference this weekend, featuring a “former” lesbian, Linda Jernigan, and Greg Quinlan, who was once a homosexual activist with the gay lobby group Human Rights Campaign but is now married and active in the pro-family movement.
IFI says it is also working closely with a pastor from the Uptown Baptist Church in Chicago, who is leading a volunteer outreach of Christians who will present water bottles with a Gospel message to athletes and spectators at Gay Games venues across the city.
“We are presenting an alternative message to Gay Games attendees to anyone with an open mind to hear it,” said IFI executive director Peter LaBarbera.
“Our outreach includes several excellent speakers who embody the spirit of true Christian compassion on this issue. All of us embrace the life, changing hope of Jesus Christ and understand that nobody has to be ‘gay.’”
The weeklong event, expected to draw nearly 12,000 athletes from 65 countries, will be staged in 33 venues across Chicago and the suburbs, beginning Saturday and ending with closing ceremonies at Wrigley Field on July 22. The Tribune reports that Mr Daley said he would attend opening ceremonies at Soldier Field.
According to Mr Daley, the event could prove to the world that Chicago would be a fit host for the 2016 Olympics, he said, by demonstrating its ability to stage a major athletic competition across a wide area while coordinating police, fire and emergency medical services.
“Gay Games is like a preliminary for the Olympics,” he said, the Tribune reports. “It’s like a showcase for it.”
The Tribune reported that Police Supt. Philip Cline wouldn’t discuss details of Gay Games security but said it will be similar to staffing for other major events, such as the Taste of Chicago.
Protesters “who wish to express their 1st Amendment rights” will be guided to designated areas during opening and closing ceremonies, he told the Tribune.
“We do not anticipate any problems, and have not received any information to indicate that an attempt to disrupt the games is in the works,” he said.
But officials told the Tribune they expect protesters.
“Our answer to them is that we are a strong, vital part of this city,” said Kevin Boyer, co-vice chairman of the Gay Games Chicago board. “We play a role in the economic, political and social vitality of Chicago, and we’re ecstatic to be in a place where we are welcomed by every facet of life.”