Whistlerites, gay, straight and in between, have another reason to be proud. A small grassroots initiative started in Whistler features prominently in the City of Vancouver’s quest to bring LGBTQ equality to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) table at the Sochi Games. (Full disclosure: my lovely and talented wife, Maureen Douglas, is the project manager for this inspiring initiative.)
The Host City Pride House Mission, led by Vancouver city councillor, and openly gay United Church minister, Tim Stevenson, launched last Wednesday. Pride House, as you may remember from 2010, was founded by Gay Whistler’s Dean Nelson to create a safe and welcoming space for LGBTQ athletes and their allies at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Nelson and his team transformed a couple of rooms in the Pan Pacific into a splendidly festive, homophobia-free oasis.
Now Nelson’s concept is poised to be part of a discussion on the world stage about making the Olympics truly inclusive for LGBTQ athletes. I say poised, because it’s possible that the delegation’s visas could be denied.
The Host City Pride Mission aims to take the spirit and the concept of Pride House to Sochi, along with demands for LGBTQ inclusion in the IOC’s Guiding Principles of Olympism. The small delegation plans to meet with the IOC to ask that LGBTQ rights be entrenched in the IOC’s charter, and that they facilitate the organization of Pride Houses within their agreements with future host cities.
Despite the lack of IOC prescriptive measures, a Pride House was part of London 2012 Summer Olympic Games. Plans for a Pride House are underway as part of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. But here’s the problem: there will not be a Pride House in Russia. It would be illegal to do so. Russian’s new Draconian “anti-gay propaganda” law could have organizers facing the possibility of being shipped off to Siberia. Seriously.
Russian President Vladimir’s Putin’s anti-gay legislation is at once both vague and sweeping. On one hand Putin is assuring the safety of LGBTQ athletes and visitors who show up in Sochi, and on the other hand he’s sending the message that LGBTQ people are sub-humans unworthy of rights. Today, being queer in Russia means keeping your mouth shut and hoping thugs don’t bash you. It means possibly losing your children because you raise them with a same-sex partner. It means potentially having your life ripped apart.
The IOC charter is also vague. Under its guiding principles, it states: “The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play,” and “ any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.”
Transgendered folk might be protected under the “gender” clause, but what about the rest of us non-heterosexuals? Being included in the catchall “otherwise” doesn’t feel all that assuring — especially when Siberia looms in the distance.
To ensure that LGBTQ athletes are protected, the IOC needs to explicitly put “sexual orientation” in its anti-discrimination language. And until homophobia in sport is eradicated, Pride Houses need to be part of every Olympics.
Join some of Canada’s most impressive Olympic and Paralympic athletes including Whistlerites Ashleigh McIvor, Britt Janyk and Tyler Mosher in supporting this initiative to make the IOC revise its charter. Want to help? Support the Host City Pride House Mission by visiting: www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/hostcitypridehouse
And Dean, thanks for creating a wonderfully tangible symbol of pride.