Toronto’s LGBT community will be invited to hang out in an open-air lounge at Ryerson University during the upcoming Sochi Olympics — a space where they can come together daily, watch the Games and discuss LGBT rights in Russia.

The lounge is being organized by PrideHouseTO, a coalition of 15 organizations working to ensure that Toronto’s 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games are inclusive, so the lounge is ultimately meant to help build momentum toward the Pan Am Games. The project is led by Gay and Lesbian International Sport Association (GLISA) North America, OutSport Toronto and The 519. It’s being funded by the City of Toronto, the Government of Ontario and the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

The lounge will include a skating rink, a large viewing screen, a fenced-in licensed area and a series of huts with food and drinks.

“It’s going to be a really rad place to watch the Games,” says Barb Besharat, part of the PrideHouseTO staff.

Not everyone supports watching the Olympics and many have called for a boycott, but Besharat argues that this event plays an important role within broader efforts. “For us, as a coalition of organizations trying to work within the system to make change, it’s not authentic for us to boycott,” she says. “We obviously know that a boycott or another kind of action . . . is important and part of the bigger process for change. You need some of those people out on the streets for us to be able to effect some changes within the organization, and so we see them working in synchronicity.”

Besharat sees the lounge in particular as an opportunity to create an inclusive space for LGBT people to gather during the Olympics while highlighting the oppression and marginalization occurring in Russia and fundraising for the Russian LGBT Sports Federation’s Open Games, which are set to take place in Moscow between the Olympics and the Paralympics.

It’s also a chance to celebrate Russian culture. “A lot of the media which has come out casts all of Russia in a bit of a negative light,” Besharat says. “We’d really like to take this opportunity to celebrate LGBT communities in Russia, and the culture.”

On Feb 14, PrideHouseTO will engage with Russia even more directly with a “To Russia with Love” message-writing event. The Games lounge will be open daily from Feb 7 to Feb 23 at Gould and Victoria streets on the Ryerson University campus. The area will be wheelchair accessible, with accessible washrooms on-site or at a nearby café.

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