Hundreds of swimmers on Sunday proved the 2017 World OutGames Miami unsinkable, despite the financial disaster that nearly ended this week’s international conference before it began.
“It’s exciting to be with swimmers from all over,” said Jax Cole, 36, a Long Beach, California, athlete who joined the OutGames aquatic competitions Sunday at Ransom Everglades School in Coconut Grove.
“The OutGames demonstrated integrity upon sufficient pressure, which to me indicates negligence,” said Cole, referring to the mess that blew up Friday morning as hundreds — perhaps thousands — of participants began to arrive in South Florida from as far away as Africa and Australia.
They arrived in South Beach to a mostly canceled and wildly disorganized World OutGames. Since then, Miami Beach city officials helped salvage some competitions — and police have launched an investigation of OutGames organizers for possible misappropriation of funds.
Beginning Friday afternoon, calls went out via social networking for community volunteers to help facilitate the remaining games and events. Among those who stepped up: state Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, Florida’s first openly gay lawmaker.
“I’ve talked to a number of the participants and everything is going off without a hitch here,” Richardson said Sunday at the aquatics competition. “I checked on water polo yesterday at University of Miami and no problems. It’s a great event.”
Richardson said the community has nothing to fear, that this scandal won’t be swept under the rug.
“My background is a forensic auditor. We’re going to get to the bottom of this. Whatever it is, is. The good, the bad, the ugly,” he said. “Our community deserves to know what happened.”
Those swimming this weekend, however, preferred to concentrate on the sporting event.
Jax Cole traveled to Miami with her mother, Anita, 69, who also swims with the Long Beach Grunions womens team.
Thirty years ago, Anita Cole cheered her young daughter during children’s swim meets. “She never swam,” Jax Cole said. “Now, as adults, I invited her to join my swim team. Mother is straight and supportive.”
“It’s fun, great and I always have a good time,” Anita Cole said between swims.
Swimmers Diane Bakuraira, 37, and Clare Byarugaba, 30, arrived Wednesday in Miami from Uganda.
“We’ve been planning for the last four months,” said Bakuraira, an LGBTQ-rights activist who once faced life in prison for being an out lesbian in Uganda.
“It’s been beautiful,” said Byarugaba, also a Ugandan activist. “Gay men, as well — but very few females.”
“It’s good to be competing in the United States,” Byarugaba said, with a message for American competitors: “Be appreciative of all the freedom they have. They should be mindful of what’s happening outside their borders.”
She also sent a message to embattled LGBTQ people back home in Africa: “The possibilities are limitless.”
▪ Swimming competition finals begin 9 a.m. Monday at Ransom Everglades School, 3575 Main Hwy., Coconut Grove, followed by water polo finals at 3 p.m. and a Pink Flamingos “Camp Fest” at 5 p.m.
▪ Welcome reception, 5:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Miami Beach Botanical Gardens, 2000 Convention Center Dr. Free to all registered OutGames attendees.
▪ Preservation Under the Rainbow, 7:30 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Art Deco Welcome Center, 1001 Ocean Dr., Miami Beach. A discussion of LGBTQ contributions to the historic preservation movement. $5 admission.
▪ Pulse Points, 6 to 10 p.m Thursday at New World Center, 500 17th St., Miami Beach. “An artistic response to the June 12, 2016, massacre at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando” featuring 200 performing artists. General admission, $40. http://bit.ly/2qppxsJ