Thursday, May 21, 2009

First Ever Pride House At Winter Olympics

A group called GayWhistler (for Whistler Mountain where many of the winter Olympic events will be held) has announced that they are sponsoring a Pride House for LGBT Winter Olympians and their friends and family to hang out during the games next winter. On the one hand, any progress in recognizing and supporting LGBT Olympic athletes and coaches is a step forward. Having a Pride House, modeled on other national houses that are available for Olympians from different countries to gather, is a positive step.

On the other hand, the Pride House is not connected in any way with the official Vancouver organizing group or with the International Olympic Committee. It isn’t even clear if the Pride House will be publicized in any official Olympic publications or information distributed to athletes. It is a strictly local endeavor to welcome and support LGBT athletes and coaches at the Games.

Eleven openly gay, lesbian and bisexual Olympians (I don’t know of any trans athletes) competed in the summer Games last year. I suspect there will be even fewer openly LGBT athletes in Vancouver since the number of athletes in the Winter Games is smaller. I always assume that there are many more closeted athletes and coaches who will be competing. So, the point of having a Pride House is not necessarily to accommodate large numbers of LGBT athletes, it is more of a symbolic presence.

It reminds me of some research I did a few years ago looking at the Safe Schools program for LGBT students here in Massachusetts. There were gay students we talked to who never went to GSA meetings, but it made a difference to them that there was a GSA in the school. They felt safer even though they did not belong to the GSA. Maybe Pride House will serve a similar function for the LGBT athletes and coaches competing at the Winter Games.

Since the Olympic movement has not been known for its gay friendliness, it would be great if there was some kind of endorsement of Pride House as a way to make all athletes feel welcomed and safe, but we will need to wait until another Olympic Games for that.

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