By Dan Woog
It’s mid-summer – so the 2010 Winter Olympics are just a few months away. Already in the host city of Vancouver, the gay community is making sure that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender athletes – and their families, friends and supporters – won’t be left out in the cold.
Gay Whistler – a group that works year-round promoting the Whistler ski resort (where skiing, bobsled and luge events will be held) to the LGBT community – is doing more than just welcoming gay competitors and fans. They’re opening Pride House, a meeting place in Pan Pacific Whistler Centre – located right in the thick of the Olympic hubbub.
Pride House will feature a lounge with TV screens. Information about upcoming Gay Games, Outgames and the Gay and Lesbian International Sports Association will be available. Athletes, coaches, families and friends who live in gay-intolerant countries can also obtain legal information about seeking refugee status in Canada.
But the main effort of Pride House will be social. Amid the pressures of an Olympics – athletic, media, emotional – there will be one place gay people and their allies can go to escape.
“The last thing athletes need is to have more pressure put on them because of sexuality,” says Dean Nelson, CEO of Alpenglow Productions, which produces Gay Whistler Winter Pride. “We just want them to have a place where they can be their complete, authentic selves.
Retired Olympians have told Nelson how hard it is to come out while competing. Pride House will not be a place for gay athletes to come out; rather, it’s somewhere they can relax, in whatever level of outness feels most comfortable. At Pride House, they’ll be surrounded by other gay people, allies and fans.
“It’s a spot to come, hang out, share stories, trade pins and have fun,” Nelson says.
The Whistler area is traditionally friendly territory for LGBT folks. Gay Whistler traces its roots to 1992. A gay ski week sprang up then in reaction to a boycott of Aspen’s ski week, after Colorado passed anti-gay legislation. Nearly two decades later, the event – now called Winter Pride – draws hundreds of visitors.
Winter Pride features ski and snowboard guiding, canopy tours (flying through snow-covered trees on zip lines), dog sled and snowmobile tours, Nordic and cross country skiing, snowshoeing, even river float trips to see bald eagles.
Non-ski events include wine tastings, mixology programs, health and wellness seminars, comedy shows, dances and plenty of parties.
Whistler has dreamed of hosting the Olympics since the 1960s. “We’ve always embraced the core Olympic values of inclusiveness and diversity,” Nelson says. “Once Vancouver was given the games, we worked to secure a venue for Pride House. It ties in with the Olympic Festival. But it’s also a way to promote queer culture, and let people have fun and be themselves.”
Pride House does not have official Olympic backing. “The International Olympic Committee is a big political machine,” Nelson notes. “We didn’t want to get too involved in that.”
Gay Whistler has met with the Vancouver Organizing Committee – on an informal basis. “They can’t get involved officially,” Nelson says. “Their mandate is sport and culture, and we have a political undertone. But they think this is a great idea, and they’ve given us lots of moral support.”
Pride House costs money. Gay Whistler is in the midst of fundraising and looking for sponsors. They’re letting the media know it exists and will start online marketing soon.
Nelson says the reaction has been “very positive. We’ve had some comments about why something like this is relevant. We’re letting them know that we’ve got guests coming from places where being gay is a huge issue. This is a place for them to find information and comfort.
“But everyone here in Vancouver thinks it’s a wonderful idea. Some people wonder why this hasn’t been done before. We think the timing is perfect. California just overturned Prop 8; ‘Milk’ came out, so people are thinking and understanding more about gay issues and homophobia.”
The Winter Olympics is not the only major event in British Columbia this winter. Following tradition, a month after the flame is doused, the Paralympic Games move in. This multi-sport festival for athletes with physical and visual disabilities comes a few days after Gay Whistler’s Winter Pride festival, set for March 1-8.
Nelson is working hard to promote Gay Whistler’s many upcoming activities. “Winter Pride has been named the No. 1 Gay Ski Week by the editors of Planet Out/Gay.com, as well as the No. 1 Lesbian Welcoming Ski Weeks by Out Traveler,” he says. “Both designations are very important. And both have given Pride House the opportunity to welcome the world immediately preceding the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, and the Paralympics that follow.”
For further information, contact http://www.gaywhistler.com