The first ever Pride House for LGBT athletes and friends opens today at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, BC. Sponsored by a private local LGBT group called GayWhistler, the Pride House does not have any official affiliation with International Olympic Committee or the Canadian Olympic organization. Like other similar “hospitality” houses for Olympic athletes from different nationalities, the Pride House provides a place for LGBT athletes, friends and family to relax and be together.
In addition, Pride House is sponsoring a series of educational and cultural events during the Olympics. Jeff Sheng will be there with his excellent photo exhibit of high school and college LGBT athletes (Jeff just finished shooting several Canadian athletes so I am sure they will be part of the exhibit in Vancouver). CAAWS will sponsor a showing of Dee Mosbacher’s documentary, Training Rules, about Penn State women’s basketball coach, Rene Portland, and her “no lesbian” policy. You can see the full schedule of events here.
A sculpture of a naked male ice hockey player will be on display at the Pride House too. This article has a picture of the sculpture. Apparently being nude is meant to symbolize “innocence, purity and truth. The artist says his work is the, “personification of the philosophical ideal of living one’s life true and honest unto one’s self with a noble character and pure spirit” blending the ancient Olympic ideal with a modern form – Ice hockey.
Ok, I see that, but it also is a reminder that ancient Olympians were all men and competing in the nude since women were barred from competition under pain of death. Even women spectators faced a potential trip off the nearest cliff for just watching the naked men compete. It’s too bad we couldn’t have a sculpture of a male and female athlete. Perhaps a nitpick, but I really get tired of needing to remind gay men who want to do something about LGBT issues in sports that it is important to include images of women athletes and trans athletes too.
The Pride House has raised some controversy, not about having a Pride House in and of itself, but about whether or not it promotes segregation when the goal should be integration. I believe this is a silly argument at this point in history. Minority groups, whether based on religion, race or culture, sexual orientation, gender or disability benefit from having “safe spaces” where they are assured a welcome and an opportunity to gather with other people who share some part of their identities. As long as we live in a world that is hostile or tolerant only when minority groups are silent or invisible, these spaces are needed. This is why gay sports leagues, school GSA student clubs, LGBT web sites, hiking clubs and the endless list of such LGBT focused groups still enjoy widespread support.
Plus, it isn’t as if straight people are not allowed. Pride House is explicitly welcoming for LGBT athletes, friends and families. I suppose you could argue that, since there are no publicly open LGBT athletes competing in Vancouver (at least that I know of), the Pride House’s function is purely symbolic, providing a visible reminder that LGBT athletes are assuredly competing in Vancouver, even if they choose not to be public about who they are. I’ve talked to several high school students who were not open about being gay in school and who would not go to a GSA meeting, but they felt safer just knowing there was a GSA in their school. Maybe the Olympic Pride House will serve a similar and equally important function, especially for closeted athletes representing countries where being gay is a criminal offense.
The Pride House also is serving an important educational function. The Fearless photo exhibit and the showing of Training Rules provide an opportunity for Olympians and others to learn a little more about LGBT athletes and the fear and prejudice they face as well as the inspiring courageous and resilience they have.
I think it would be really fun if the Pride House gained a reputation as a fun place to go to relax with great music, friendly people, good food that attracted athletes of all sexual orientation and gender identities. Olympians always talk about how great it is to live with and get to know athletes from all over the world in the Olympic Village. Wouldn’t it be great if this could happen in a place like Pride House where the explicit understanding is that the people who visit support LGBT openness and equality since we cannot say that about the Olympic Village or the broader Olympic Movement…yet.