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Vancouver mayor backs motion to lobby IOC to protect LGBT athletes

If motion passes, Vancouver will send gay deputy mayor to Sochi

“I’m dismayed to see that the important progress that we made here in Vancouver is being lost for these Games in Sochi,” Mayor Gregor Robertson (left, with Councillor Tim Stevenson) told a press conference Dec 11. Credit: Shauna Lewis

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson says he’ll support a motion to lobby the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to protect gay athletes and encourage the establishment of Pride Houses at future Olympics.

“We held Games that welcomed the world, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation,” Robertson told a press conference Dec 11. “Everyone was included and everyone was welcome here.

“Sadly, this does not appear to be the case with the 2014 Sochi Winter Games,” he added.

The motion, which is expected to get full support when it goes to council Dec 17, will be introduced by Councillor Tim Stevenson. 

If it passes, Stevenson will travel to Sochi in February to represent the City of Vancouver as deputy mayor and to lobby the IOC to amend its Olympic charter to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

“It has always been my firm belief that the Olympics and Paralympics should be fully and unequivocally open to people who want to participate, regardless of their sexual orientation, and I’m dismayed to see that the important progress that we made here in Vancouver is being lost for these Games in Sochi,” Robertson said.

While Vancouver has no authority to persuade the IOC to amend its charter, Robertson says city council has an ethical obligation to try.

“As an Olympic host city, one of the things you commit to doing is helping the Games get better with each city that hosts, and we’re hoping that we may have a chance to do that,” he said.

“Certainly, our voice is important in this, and making people understand the importance of a Pride House and the protection and support and celebration of athletes, regardless of sexual orientation, is absolutely critical going forward for the Olympic and Paralympic movement,” he added.

“As an openly gay, ordained United Church minister and four-term councillor, I’ve spent a career fighting for gay rights, minority rights, for human rights,” Stevenson said, explaining why he proposed the motion.

“Our objective is not to challenge Russian policy or to provoke an incident in Sochi, but to channel support of the LGBTQ community in a positive direction with the IOC and the IPC [International Paralympic Committee] that helps future athletes,” he said.

Stevenson’s motion has received support from former Olympians such as Jon Montgomery, who won a gold medal in skeleton at the 2010 Winter Games.

Local businessmen Bob Rennie and Peter Wall have each contributed $25,000 to the initiative, which will rely on private donations rather than taxpayer funds.

In a joint statement, Wall and Rennie say they are supporting the mission to Russia because they “see an injustice and a singled-out group being attacked. This shouldn’t happen in 2013 or 2014.”

“It is not just a gay issue; it’s a women’s issue, it’s a societal issue and it’s a human rights issue,” says former Olympian Marion Lay, who is a lesbian.

Lay says being gay in sports still presents its own unique set of challenges.

“In sport we are still faced with a lot of discrimination toward gay and lesbians,” she said.

“It’s one of the hardest and most conservative sectors to really make a difference in,” she continued. “As an athlete, if you speak about your sexual orientation, you are ostracized. At the best we are tolerated; at the worst, as it was in my time, we are harassed.”

Lay supports the establishment of Pride Houses in future host cities, both to celebrate LGBT athletes and to teach the next generation “so that we really do have a legacy that endorses, embraces and celebrates equality.”

Although Stevenson has some concerns for his safety in Sochi, he expects the trip will succeed without issue. “I have no intention of breaking any Russian laws or protesting in Russia,” he says.

“I’m representing the City of Vancouver, and hopefully Russia will not only be aware of that, but will honour that and see to it that I have the same protection that they’re suggesting the athletes will have,” he said.