Vancouver will have its own Pride House for gay athletes and their allies during the 2010 Olympics.
A similar facility is already in the works for Whistler, the main venue of the Winter Games, where gay athletes will be able to meet, share stories, trade pins and watch the Games together at the Pan Pacific hotel, says organizer Dean Nelson.
“The concept is creating a really cool, hip lounge where athletes, coaches, fans and allies can come together,” Nelson told Xtra West in May.
Now he is expanding his idea to Vancouver.
“Just speaking with our community, there is a definite sense that they wanted to have a space down in Vancouver as well,” says Nelson, who co-owns GayWhistler, which produces the resort town’s annual gay ski week, WinterPride.
Vancouver’s Pride House will likely launch Feb 10, a couple of days before the opening of the Winter Games, Nelson says.
The focus of the Vancouver house will be creating a safe space for athletes to socialize and access educational, health and support services.
Nelson is partnering with Qmunity (formerly The Centre) to produce Vancouver’s Pride House and anchor its home base. There have also been initial discussions with Score on Davie to be a main celebration venue, but nothing has been finalized yet, he adds.
“We’re using Qmunity as the organizational hub because we have infrastructure, the capacity and the non-profit status through which we can apply for grants,” says Qmunity’s executive director Jennifer Breakspear, who is also chair of the Vancouver Pride House steering committee.
“We thought we could do this multi-site idea: organizational stuff here [at Qmunity], celebration stuff focused primarily at one bar or restaurant that would be the Pride House’s celebration venue, but likely also staging things at different places in the city depending on the needs of the event,” Breakspear elaborates.
“We had some conversations with some others, but nothing finalized yet,” she adds.
Qmunity has applied for a Host A City Happening grant, worth up to $10,000, from the City of Vancouver to help fund the venture, Breakspear says.
She says she anticipates a decision on the application “any day now.”
“I’ve been told the city was going to push this one through pretty quickly,” she says.
Nelson, who is also looking for sponsors, says collaborating with Qmunity was “very natural” because they have a lot of resources that athletes and other visitors can access in areas such as immigration and asylum.
“At these huge sporting events — gay or straight, it doesn’t matter — people do request asylum from established western nations, so we just anticipate that if we’re being so public about having a Pride House that some of these athletes that are having such turmoil back home about their sexuality, this could be an opportunity to escape that legitimately. We’re there to support them,” Nelson says.
Nelson says the steering committee is looking at ways to engage Davie St merchants and bars, as well as Commercial Dr community members, in Vancouver’s Pride House initiatives. “We’re going to have multiple venues,” he explains.
Little Sister’s co-owner Jim Deva says it’s important for Olympic athletes and tourists to know the Davie Village exists and is predominantly gay.
Deva is part of a separate initiative of gay businesses that have formed an ad hoc committee to look into promoting the village as a gay space during the Olympics.
“I’m concerned that the tourists and people that come to town [for the Olympics] are not going to know about Davie Village,” he says, “and I think it’s an ideal time to be promoting Davie Village as a safe place for people to come and visit and enjoy themselves.”
“Hopefully at the same time that we’re branding the village and trying to do as much promotion as possible, we can also be working with their [Pride House] committee to create venues for performances and that sort of thing,” Deva adds.
Meanwhile the City of Vancouver’s queer advisory committee passed a resolution supportive of heightening queer visibility in the city during the Winter Games, says committee member Fatima Jaffer.
Jaffer, who sits with Deva on the city’s advisory committee and its subcommittee committed to queering the Olympics, says the Games present an opportunity to showcase Vancouver as a queer-friendly city through a visibility campaign that includes window displays in Davie St businesses and information in stores about queer rights in various participating countries.
“Information will be very controlled during that time, so [it’s] trying to create spaces where there’ll be more than just the official party line, the Olympic party line,” Jaffer says. “So talking about what works and doesn’t for us as queer people here.
“It really is just about taking this opportunity to raise some issues more than just what we’re allowed to.”
Whistler’s Pride House is scheduled to open Feb 8.
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. “We’re really pleased to see that Dean’s group is positioned to do this really well,” she told Xtra West in May. “They’re being innovative.”