Four years ago Vancouver and Whistler opened their communities to the world and showed how warm and welcoming we are by nature. The creation of Pride House, a building that hosted LGBT athletes, volunteers and visitors, demonstrated to the Olympic family — and to families around the world — that we welcome everyone and that we would dare to speak openly and honestly about homophobia and transphobia in sports and in schools.
I could share at length stories of how, during the Olympics and Paralympics, individuals and families came in and said, “Thank you, thank you for showing we are not alone. Thank you for sharing that we are valuable contributors to society.”
I could also talk about the hundreds of letters, emails and posts we received about how “brave” we were to create such a pavilion, or about the refugees who saw or read about Pride House and gained the courage to flee their home, where everyday is a death sentence, to a nation that celebrates and embraces its people — all its people.
Pride House created awareness that LGBT rights are human rights and human rights are LGBT rights. And when the International Olympic Committee describes sport as a human right that must include LGBT rights.
Pride House was a catalyst that resonated with both LGBT and ally athletes, coaches and management. Since 2010, how many fantastic changes have we seen in Canada and elsewhere in favour of safe and inclusive sport for all? We have seen various professional sports organizations, including the NHL, NFL, NBA and the MLB, and even the US Olympic Committee, revise their policies on sexual harassment and discrimination.
One of Vancouver’s greatest legacies of the 2010 Olympics, in my opinion, is Pride House and the resulting awareness on homophobia. We set a standard and became a role model for other cities to follow our lead. In 2012, a Pride House was organized in Warsaw for the UEFA Euro Football Championship and in London for the 2012 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games. Pride Houses are being activated in 30 cities around the world in support of Sochi LGBT rights with more planned for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the 2014 FIFA World Cup in various locations in Brazil. The 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto will also see a Pride House, as will the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Sadly, the next host city of Sochi and host nation of Russia have created a poisonous and toxic environment where the state is encouraging hate and marginalization of the gay community. We saw popular Russian TV Star, Ivan Okhlobystin, tell his fans at a meet and greet that “I’d put them (the gays) all alive in the oven. It’s a living danger to my children.” The Olympics are being hosted in a country where the promotion of a gay Holocaust is greeted not by disgust, but by applause.
This week Maureen “Mo” Douglas, project manager of the Host City Pride House Mission, along with Vancouver councillor and acting deputy mayor, Tim Stevenson, are in Sochi to advocate to the IOC and member nations to update principle six of the Olympic Charter to explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identity. They will educate and advocate that LGBT rights are human rights. They are both acting with official civic endorsement from the City of Vancouver to defend the legacy we started and to show leadership in making sport safer and inclusive for all humanity.
When you empower athletes to be authentic they are able to focus all of their energy on doing their best in their sport instead of hiding who they are. It is our collective hope we will persuade the IOC to enshrine in the host city agreement that future community-based Pride Houses be included in the hosting of the games. This will ensure that all people, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, race and religion, are welcomed, creating a safe space to enjoy the games.
This historic mission will signal to the world that Vancouver and Whistler are progressive and compassionate places that stand up for the civil and human rights of LGBT people. Part of our legacy as the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic host city is to be able to speak out on behalf of the people of Vancouver and Canada to affirm that our values of acceptance and inclusion are the true values of Olympism.
Dean Nelson is the CEO of WinterPride and a longtime advocate for LGBT rights.