CLEVELAND -- The Gay Games might not be happening until next year, but organizers are already giving athletes a warm welcome.
Dozens met at Tower City downtown on Friday for a welcome rally. The event was part of a ten-month-long kick-off campaign.
"We're signing some cards to send out to participants who have already registered and we're really looking forward to hosting the games in 2014," said Holly Ksiezyk, who is the co-chair of the Gay Games.
Ksiezyk said it is important that the athletes feel welcome in town. Critics wonder if they can achieve that goal after two recent hate crimes. Both happened outside a gay bar in Cleveland. In one case, rocks were thrown at patrons; in the other, a man was beaten.
"It's always terrible when you hear about someone being hurt or when violence occurs. It definitely impacts the individual and the entire community," said LGBT advocate Phyllis Harris.
She thinks those were isolated incidents and shouldn't reflect on the city's views.
Cleveland Police Chief Michael McGrath feels the same.
"By no means do we condone that type of behavior in the city of Cleveland. We're looking forward to these games in 2014 and it's very exciting for the police department and more importantly for a community as a whole and the city," he said.
Organizers believe the Gay Games won't just help promote equality, but also help boost the economy. Thousands are expected to turn out for the competition.