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Gay Games Rowing in Crystal Lake: One Step Closer
by Amy Wooten
2006-04-12

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After a month of flared tempers, letters to the editor and controversy, Crystal Lake's City Council passed the request to hold a Gay Games rowing event 6-1 following an anti-climatic April 4 meeting.

'I'm very happy at this point,' said Crystal Lake Rowing Club president Walt Gary, who added that he wasn't surprised that the meeting ran smoothly. 'I felt relatively comfortable that it would be a good meeting, and I was hopeful that we would get the outcome that we got.'

The world has had its eye on the northwest Chicago suburb since Crystal Lake Park District's lengthy and emotionally heated meetings last month. The city's mayor, Aaron Shepley, refused to entertain any discussion or public comments that veered from rowing, causing a smooth and relatively quick decision by the council, and public comments free of homophobic remarks or arguments revolving around sexuality.

'We are not here to talk about sexual orientation,' Shepley said prior to public comment. The council refused to hear outbursts, personal attacks and name-calling, and would only stick to the issues at hand: the approval or disapproval of a rowing event, including temporary road closures, decal waiver requests, altering no-wake times and reimbursements for any costs incurred.

Shepley followed by reminding the audience of the Illinois Human Rights Act, which, among other things, bars discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity regarding public accommodations. 'That's not going to happen here tonight,' the mayor said regarding discrimination. 'For those who think that law is wrong, Springfield is the place you should direct your concerns, not the city of Crystal Lake.'

'No matter what our own personal beliefs are ... we swore to uphold the laws of the state of Illinois and the Constitution of the United States,' he said. 'Don't deter us from discharging that obligation.'

Only a handful of people chose to comment publicly. Out of those who spoke, only one disapproved of holding the regatta.

Officials with the Gay Games, to be held in Chicago and its surrounding suburbs July 15-22, wish to hold the rowing competition in Crystal Lake on July 16. After passing the Park District board, the second step was gaining Crystal Lake City Council's approval. Now, the only hurdle left is the approval from the nearby village of Lakewood ( expected Tuesday night, April 11 ) .

The only council member who voted 'no' on Gay Games' request was Jeffrey Thorsen, and his decision was based on the timing of the no-wake restriction.

The meeting was a refreshing change of pace given the past month's events. On March 2, after an emotional public debate, Gay Games organizers were shot down by the Park Board with a 2-2 vote due to President Jerry Sullivan's absence. The matter was reconsidered on March 7 after a four-hour debate. The meeting became a media circus as opposition brought up concerns with AIDS, public indecency and questions of morality to match supporters' cries for acceptance. The Park Board voted 3-2 in favor of Gay Games.

The mayor said that Crystal Lake is not unfamiliar with approving a regatta event. In fact, both Councilwoman Cathy Ferguson and Shepley said that Gay Games is exactly the type of event Crystal Lake wants to promote in an effort to draw more outside events.

'I just hope that as promoters of this event,' Shepley told Gay Games organizers, 'you understand that any experiences you may have had in the approval process thus far, I personally do not believe ... that Crystal Lake is an unfriendly or anti-gay place that is not warm to having people from other communities come visit us.'


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