First-ever PRIDE house    

Gay athletes get 'safe space' at Olympics

By Jeff Lee, Vancouver Sun
May 8, 2009 10:01 PM

VANCOUVER — Canadian athletes at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games will have Canada House. The Russians will have Russia House. The Dutch, Holland House.

And now, gay and lesbian athletes will have Pride House.

For the first time in Olympic history, gay athletes will have a unique place to relax, watch events and meet friends.

On Friday, a group called GayWhistler announced it will set up a special clubhouse in partnership with the Pan Pacific Whistler Village hotel.

The free facility will be open to homosexual athletes, their families, friends and fans. It will offer a lounge, television screens and meeting areas.

"It is really important to have a safe space for out athletes, coaches, fans and allies to come and hang out, share their stories, trade pins and have fun," said Dean Nelson, one of the organizers.

That may not sound like much, considering Whistler annually holds a WinterPride celebration and Vancouver has one of Canada's legendarily vibrant gay and lesbian communities.

But Pride House will help break down gender discrimination barriers that have long existed in the Olympics, according to Kevin Wamsley, an Olympic historian.

"For a traditionally conservative festival like the Olympic Games, I think this is significant," said Wamsley, a professor at the University of Western Ontario.

"The (International Olympic Committee) has been skirting around the issue of sexuality since it began."

"The (International Olympic Committee) has been skirting around the issue of sexuality since it began."

Wamsley said the Olympics, built around the traditional societal model of strong men and feminine women, has not been a friendly place for homosexuals in the past.

"It has been an uncomfortable issue for the IOC since the 1920s. That's because sport is one of those forms of culture that has produced a gender binary for western and eastern civilizations," he said. "When you start to blur the lines of sexuality people in the past have got the hair on their neck up."

Nelson said he and several others started working to create Pride House about three years ago as an extension of efforts GayWhistler and others made to hold the North American Gay Games.

"There is a huge contingent of athletes out there, some of them are Olympic calibre. The Olympics is generally a pretty homophobic structure where being out is not really encouraged," he said. "We're hoping we can be a catalyst and change that perception, that you can be your authentic self."
© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service
 

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