Chicago 'gaymers' aim to take on the world

  • Chicago's "gaymer" community has grown from a few LGBT gaming enthusiasts to attracting crowds from around the world.
Chicago's "gaymer" community has grown from a few LGBT… (Jason Hopwood )
April 05, 2013|By Mick Swasko, @swasko | RedEye

It started at some three-day gaming sessions with a small group in Jason Hopwood’s apartment.

Now, Hopwood is looking to raise $15,000 to spread the popularity of Chicago’s “gaymer” community around the world. Gaymer Nationals, the group he established to fund “gaymer” communities in other cities, has become a second job for the 33-year-old Lincoln Square resident. It’s grown from small, gaming-centric gatherings to attracting hundreds of members of the LGBT community from around the world.

“We’re queer nerds, that’s what we are,” Hopwood said of Chicago’s “gaymers.” “It’s a bunch of gay guys and girls that like gaming.”

The idea for “gaymer” meetups first came to Hopwood from a thread on Reddit two years ago. Many people in Chicago had been talking about a gaming-focused gathering, but no one was willing to organize. So, Hopwood offered his apartment. The three-day sessions quickly gained a reputation and began attracting like-minded members of the LGBT community from around the state, and eventually from across state lines and across the globe.

“I had no idea that it would turn into what it’s turned into,” he said. “People asked, 'Can you help build this and make it bigger?' That’s what I am trying to do now.”

Hopwood has launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise $15,000 to support local events in Chicago—which so far he has been funding out of his own pocket—as well as to establish  “gaymer” communities in other cities. He said the group has helped members of the LGBT community find like-minded companionship they might not be able to find in their hometowns and has produced so many relationships he’s lost count.

“I think it changes people’s lives,” he said. “I’ve seen guys who are 24, seen them come out of their shell. Guys who are smart individuals that are a little shy. They are coming together in these events. When they meet other people like themselves, they're just like holy [bleep]. They can fully be who they are, it’s amazing to watch.”

The group’s next big event, Gaymer Nationals, will be held in Chicago from July 19 to 21. Some of the events include a “Death Rally”—which pits the “gaymers” against Chicago’s athletics-focused LGBT group “Gaybros” in a combo of sporting and video-game competitions—as well as a board game gathering and social events.

In the past, most of the donations people have given to Hopwood for hosting the events have been donated to LGBT causes in the Chicago area, like The Trevor Project, an organization that focuses on suicide prevention in the gay community. With the fundraising campaign, Hopwood said he hopes more can be given back.

“I hope that we can give a ton back, that would make me so happy,” he said. “There’s so many underserved charities out there it’s unfortunate.”

Hopwood’s Indiegogo campaign has 44 days remaining and had raised $1,325 as of Friday. He’s nicknamed himself “Poppa Gaymer” to the group—because many members tend to be younger—and said he hopes the “gaymers” continue to grow.

“I feel such a fatherly love for all these guys,” he said. “I want to see them succeed, and that’s why I like this so much.” 

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