The province has given the 2011 North America Outgames another $81,000, funds that will go toward ensuring the participation of queer seniors and youth in the event’s human rights conference.
The funding has come from Ministry of Advanced Education coffers to help fund at least 70 seats, costing approximately $400 each, at the conference, which will be held at the Vancouver Sheraton Wall Centre from July 26 to 28.
Last week, the province announced it would provide $75,000 to support the event’s sports element. Early on, the Vancouver Parks Board also contributed $100,000 to the games. With this latest announcement, the event has received a total of $256,000 in provincial and civic funds.
“It’s a big boost in our funding resources,” says Victor Elkins, the conference co-chair. “We are going to target as many youth and seniors that we can, from as far and wide as possible.”
“We want to increase youth participation, especially when you look at the stats around bullying in school and the high rates of suicide among queer students,” he says.
But Outgames organizers say they’ll also provide bursaries to queer seniors wishing to attend the conference. “We promote living happily ever after, then at a certain age we are seemingly forced back into the closet,” Elkins says, referring to queer seniors’ housing issues and the overall invisibility and social marginalization they often face.
Boychuk says the funding will also provide some relief to organizations feeling a financial pinch.
“We know a lot of queer organizations have been struggling,” he says. “If we can provide relief, it makes a difference in the level of participation.”
Conference topics include education, homophobia and transphobia in sport, human rights law worldwide, and religion and the queer community.
Olympic short-track speed skater Blake Skjellerup; Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Commission chair, Peter Glassman; and UBC music professor and concert pianist Sara Davis Buechner will be the conference keynote speakers.
Two symposiums are also on the July 29 and 30 docket. Topics include hate crime and the law, and how members of the Islamic faith practise without prejudice.
Two human rights awards will also be presented at the end of the conference.
Despite the criticism Outgames organizers have faced about the lack of publicity surrounding the games, Elkins says the games are gaining momentum, especially over the past month.
Emails have poured in and interest has peaked among various unions and businesses wanting information about the event.
Even with the latest infusion of funds, Elkins says organizers will continue to lobby donors to help with additional conference expenses so they can put on “one heck of an event.”
“It’s not just about sport,” he explains. “It’s about life. There’s more to it and this event is bringing us all together.”