One of my favorite quotes is from Nelson Mandela and I have it printed out above my desk: "Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to unite in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination."
For the last few days, I have been at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler, primarily to tend to my exhibitions of Fearless (my photography series of "out" LGBT high school and collegiate athletes), here at PRIDE House Vancouver and Whistler, but I wanted to share my thoughts and a behind the scenes look at the historic PRIDE House venues, one of which will be part of a segment in the Colbert Report this week, and to also speak a bit about the incredible significance of these venues being included in the Winter Olympics, a first for our community where a dedicated LGBT space is part of the official Olympic pavilion list and recognized by the host Olympic Organizing Committee.
The original idea for PRIDE House came from Dean Nelson, who is also the executive producer of Winter Pride ski week in Whistler, Canada. His idea came from seeing how many nations and groups at the Olympic Games have their own pavilions and houses to celebrate the games and to watch the Olympics together, and he wanted a space for the LGBT community to do the same.
PRIDE House Whistler
To clear up confusion, there are now technically three PRIDE house venues: PRIDE House Whistler, and two PRIDE House venues in Vancouver: one at the LGBT Center Qmunity and the other at the bar Score on Davie Street. PRIDE House Whistler is at the Pan Pacific Hotel right in the heart of Whistler, one of the first things you see when you drive up to the main village. It is a converted lounge in an upscale hotel, and there are two large rooms with seating and flat screen televisions, and a bar that is easily the least expensive bar in the ski resort. Three LGBT-themed art exhibitions are prominently on display: my photography series "Fearless" being one of them, the other two include a segment of the original rainbow flag by Gilbert Baker, and "Slapshotolus" by Edmund Haakoson, a nude bronze male hockey player in the spirit of a Greek statue.
I hung out there this past Saturday night and the atmosphere was perfect: lots of people of all ages, both in the LGBT community and straight allies, all watching the Olympics together over food and drinks. The place felt incredibly welcoming, and many visitors remarked that it was one of the best secrets of the Whistler Olympic Village, where food and drink was actually affordable and everyone was very friendly. As an added bonus, 1992 swimming gold medalist, and openly gay athlete, Mark Tewksbury came by and chatted with everyone hanging out there that night.
PRIDE House Vancouver
There are also two PRIDE House venues in Vancouver, one is at Qmunity, the local LGBT resource center for Vancouver, and the second venue is at the bar SCORE on Davie Street. Neither one is perfect, yet both have garnered a lot of traffic and media attention, including a visit from Stephen Colbert to the PRIDE House Vancouver QMunity space.
The limitations for the spaces are that QMunity, being more a resource center, is not open very late at night when many of the prime time events are being aired. To compensate for this, the "entertainment" PRIDE House venue was situated at the bar SCORE across the street, which is normally a bar and restaurant, and in many ways, isn't as special of a location as the PRIDE House in Whistler.
The future of PRIDE House?
Regardless of this, just the idea of PRIDE house has been a huge success. Major media outlets and spectators have all remarked on the inclusiveness of these Olympic Games to allow for such a space for the LGBT Community. Because of the media attention, all three venues are now tourist destinations for Olympic fans, both gay and straight, from countries all over the world, looking for official PRIDE house pins and wanting to take pictures of the historic venues.
But what's next for the future of PRIDE House? The next Winter Olympics in 2014 are going to be held in Sochi, Russia, a country who's anti-gay actions grabbed headline news last May when police violently broke up a gay pride rally in Moscow, and the dramatic contrast in both countries' respective records in regards to LGBT rights needs to be highlighted here. The idea that the Sochi Olympic Organizing Committee will be as accepting as Vancouver is a stretch for many to conceive of.
My hope though is for London to take the lead for the 2012 Summer Games. That the organizers for those Olympics take note and really make it a priority to create their version of PRIDE House, to dedicate a specific venue, perhaps a large donated hotel lobby/lounge/restaurant/bar - as a safe space for all fans and athletes of the Olympics Games who are part of or allies to the LGBT Community, and by doing so, cement PRIDE house as a tradition of the Olympic Games, where pressure would be placed on Russia to continue this in 2014. That maybe this would give enough momentum to allow and encourage the Sochi Games to also be a place of inclusion and awareness of LGBT rights.
This desire of mine, is more than just about parties and watching the Games with our friends, but rather, PRIDE House represents a greater step in our fight for equality, and the recognition of the LGBT community as an equal to all others. We sometimes forget that sport is one of the last real bastions where homophobia pervades and alienates many, and that having the Olympic committee during these current Games in Vancouver recognize the LGBT community is a huge step forward and should be highly commended, and not to be forgotten.
I am reminded once more of those words from Nelson Mandela: "Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to unite in a way that little else does... Sport can create hope where once there was only despair... It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination."