Opinion » Editorial

Should Whistler bring back Pride House for 2014 Olympics?



In 2010 the Pan Pacific Mountainside Lodge was more than just a slopeside hotel.

It hosted the first-ever Olympic Pride House — a temporary, dedicated location where gay, bisexual, and transgendered athletes, volunteers and visitors to the resort could meet, swap stories and relax.

Vancouver also hosted a Pride House, but ask anyone and they will tell you that it was the Whistler venue that was the most fun — and effective.

Dean Nelson, the man behind Whistler's gay ski week, WinterPRIDE, spearheaded the creation of the 2010 Pride Houses. He wanted to get the world talking about human rights, inclusivity and homophobia in sports.

It's no surprise then to learn that he is taking an active role in raising these issues in Sochi, as Russia gets ready to host the Winter Olympics in 2014. It was his hope, as outlined in previous Pique stories, that Sochi would continue the Pride House tradition started in B.C. — a tradition London also embraced for its Summer Olympic and Paralympic 2012 Games — even releasing an official gay pride pin.

In all about 5,000 people visited the Whistler Pride House throughout the Olympics and Paralympics.

Said Nelson at the time: "We ended up being this absolutely fantastic meeting place." One of the highlights at the Whistler Pride House was a visit from Blake Skjellerup, a speed skater from New Zealand, who publicly identified himself as gay after the 2010 Games. Nelson said it was partly Skjellerup's experience at the pavilion that encouraged him to come out.

"He was just really inspired with how open and authentic both Vancouver and Whistler were," Nelson said at the time.

What Nelson hoped, along with most worldwide, was that the Winter Olympics in Sochi would welcome a Pride House as well, but that is not to be. Not only will Sochi not welcome a Pride House, in June Russia passed a new anti-gay law that is truly homophobic. Since then we have heard calls for boycotts and other measures.

But this week Vancouver is set to battle the issue another way — and it has another Sea to Sky connection in Maureen Douglas, who worked for the Vancouver Organizing Committee of the 2010 Games and who lives in Pemberton with her family.

Vancouver's first openly gay councillor, Tim Stevenson, wants to take a delegation to Sochi, including Douglas (and Nelson), to "channel the support for LGBTQ rights in a positive direction with the IOC and IPC that helps future protection for all Olympic and Paralympic athletes," according to a release.

While I salute the passion behind this initiative surely it is time for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to take a stand on this issue more strongly?

The action here needs to be spearheaded by the IOC — and not the "protest zones" they have accepted as a partial solution to the reaction against the Russian human rights record. As if protesters are going to be given permission to speak out!

Surely a strongly worded phone call from IOC president Thomas Bach to Russian president Vladimir Putin would have put a stop to the anti-gay law.

While the Olympic Charter does not specifically mention protection based on sexual orientation, it does say under the Fundamental Principles of Olympism: "The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play."

And it states: "Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement."

It is difficult to see how Russia's anti-gay law doesn't conflict with those principles though that was not the finding of Jean-Claude Killy, chairman of the IOC Coordination Commission, which took several days to consider the issue in September.

We are seeing worldwide leaders boycott the Games. For example Vivian Redding, the vice president of the European Commission, announced that she is boycotting the Sochi Olympiad because of Russia's anti-gay legislation. And on Tuesday U.S. President Barack Obama announced that he is not going and that openly gay athlete Billie Jean King will be part of the delegation to Sochi — and she is the most recognizable of the contingent going.

But is there something we can do here in Whistler?

Why don't we do as Toronto is doing and have our own Pride House right here?

Toronto's Sochi Pride House will feature Olympic viewing on large-screen TVs, along with activities such as pick-up hockey games.

Whistler should not let the traction it helped the LGBTQ community earn in 2010 lose ground to a nation which so flagrantly flaunts its human rights abuses.