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January-February 2010

Olympic Countdown: Pride House debuts, but will athletes come out?

Kim Hart MacneillWebsite

Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered athletes will find the first-ever Olympic pavilion welcoming them in 2010, a place at the Games to hang out, chill out, or come out.

“The whole purpose behind Pride House” — actually a conference room at Whistler, B.C.’s Pan Pacific Hotel—“was really to create a dialogue about homophobia within sport,” says organizer Dean Nelson on the phone from his Whistler home. People are definitely talking: Pride House has been on the cover of the Globe and Mail and in the New York Times in the months leading up to the Games. Nelson has been a fixture of the Whistler gay scene for 15 years and knows how to throw a party: he’s been involved with Vancouver Pride for years, has opened six hotels of his own, and works as CEO of GayWhistler, the company hosting Pride House.

Traditional Olympic pavilions like Canada House and France House are invite-only, but Pride House will be open to anyone, gay or straight, Canadian or not. It’s intended to be a haven for anyone who wants to know more about being gay in Canada, needs advice on coming out, or is considering leaving a country with antigay laws. Staff from LEGIT, a group that helps refugees gain immigration status for their same-sex partners, and national lobbyist EGALE will be on hand to offer advice. Now the question is whether anyone will show up to take advantage.

Gay and lesbian athletes are a touchy subject in professional sport. In his book The Metrosexual: Gender, Sexuality, and Sport, Australian academic David Coad describes sport’s silent, generalized homophobia. His 2008 survey revealed the U.S. had only six openly gay professional athletes; Australia and the U.K. each had one; and Canada had a handful of out athletes—but as in other countries, most came out after retirement.

Nelson hopes Pride House will become a permanent Olympic fixture: London is prepping its own version for 2012, but for Russia in 2014—where homosexuality was delisted as a mental illness just 10 years ago—it might be a harder sell. But Pride House’s very existence is aimed at changing attitudes, Nelson says: “If an athlete wants to use it as a forum to make a statement, or find the support and counselling that they need, they have that available to them for the first time in their professional sporting career.”

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