While tolerance and gay pride may seem like old news to many of us, Dean Nelson of Whistler's WinterPRIDE gay and lesbian ski weeks knows that, globally, we still have a long way to go. Although he's a professional party planner by trade, the politics are unavoidable in a world where people who identify as strictly heterosexual are still subjected to violence and state persecution.
But what better way to combine party planning and draw attention to the human rights issue than to host a Pride House at an Olympic Games?
For the 2010 Olympics, Nelson broke new ground by working with the organizing committee and others to create 2010 Pride House, with venues in Vancouver and Whistler that were open to athletes, coaches, officials, family members and fans. The venue inspired a few athletes and former athletes — including New Zealand speed skater Blake Skjellerup to come out publicly.
When 2012 came around and the chance to host a Pride House for the Summer Games in London, Nelson got involved right away. It was harder to put it together — London is a big, expensive city compared to Whistler and Vancouver — but in the end it was a success.
"Pride House 2012 (PH12) has been a bit different than the pavilion experience that we had created in Vancouver and Whistler," he said. "London had many challenges in getting the pavilion up and running due primarily to funding. Fundraising, as you can imagine, has been incredibly difficult considering the very fragile economies of Europe, and the complexity that the Olympics adds only compounded the challenge."
Nelson gave high marks to the London organizing committee for creating ambassadors for the Pride House, including former rugby star Gareth Thomas, NBA player John Amaechi and David Furnish, Elton John's husband. They were instrumental in securing funding and other support for PH12.
"The star power changed what we did in Whistler from being grassroots concept to more of a U.S.-style lobbying/political action group with a deeper reach behind the scenes," said Nelson, who Pique reached by email in London last week.
With the support of organizers and ambassadors on board, PH12 took off. There were parties of course, but the venue also became a focus for the global politics and the battle against homophobia within sport, and in general.
"The achievement of PH12 was the fact that the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and LOCOG (London Organizing Committee) actually had a LGBT strategy and engagement policy in place from day one. They even had a special Pride Olympic Pin available for sale, which quickly became a collector's item, and was one of the rarest pins available.
"(The) bottom line is that PH12 created an environment that fostered open communication and protection based on sexual and gender diversity and inclusion."