Gay athletes coming from around the world to take part in the 2010 Winter Olympics at Whistler will have a place to call their own.
GayWhistler is setting up a Pride House at the resort’s Pan Pacific hotel as a place for gay athletes to meet, share stories, trade pins and watch the Games, says Dean Nelson.
“The concept is creating a really cool, hip lounge where athletes, coaches, fans and allies can come together,” he says.
Nelson says Canadians often forget the hardships faced by gay people in other parts of the world where homosexuality remains illegal.
“This could be the first time they could go to a space in a secure environment and be themselves,” he says.
He stresses it is not going to be like a gay bar.
“It’s a gay-positive space where people can hang out,” he says. “It’s an intimate space.”
Contrary to other media reports, Pride House is not intended to house gay athletes, he says. They will reside in the athletes’ village at Whistler.
Nelson says some Olympic sponsors have expressed an interest in supporting the initiative, which he describes as another way of showcasing the inclusiveness that is being touted as part of the 2010 Games.
“We’re reaching out and bringing the queer element to the Games,” Nelson says. “The final frontier of homophobia is in the sports field. It’s there but nobody talks about it.”
The Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC) spokesperson Maureen Douglas says VANOC supports the initiative but has no involvement in it.
Nor will VANOC be promoting the initiative.
Its focus is on running the sporting events, Douglas explains, adding that VANOC does not promote other venues such as Russian House or Denmark House either.
However, Douglas applauds Nelson for adding another piece of diverse texture to the Games.
“We’re really pleased to see that Dean’s group is positioned to do this really well,” Douglas says. “They’re being innovative.”
Adds Nelson, if athletes from countries where gay people are persecuted decide they do not want to return home, legal counsel will be available to help them stay in Canada.
Statistically speaking, Nelson expects there will be about 100 gay people involved in Whistler events.
Of the 10,708 athletes who marched into Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Olympic stadium last summer, Outsports.com was aware of only 10 who are publicly gay, on par with the 2004 Games. There was also a bisexual American softball player.
Outsports says the reasons athletes stay in the closet are varied, but revolve primarily around fear of the consequences of being out.
Those can include effects on performance, interaction with teammates, fans and the media, and, in some cases, endorsements.
It’s not known if a similar facility will be available for gay athletes competing at Vancouver venues.
Nelson is one of the driving forces behind Whistler’s WinterPride annual gay ski week.