Pride House Challenges Homophobia in Sport
It’s week two, and I still have Olympic fever. I’ll admit I still have some mixed feelings about the Olympics, but I’m not alone in that. Politics aside, I love to watch the actual sporting events, see the nuances of expression on the athletes’ faces as they anticipate, compete, and then react to their own performances. There’s elation, disappointment, glory, rage. Amazing.
Aside from the competitions, I’ve also got my eye on Pride House, a public space for queer athletes and their supporters to gather. There has never been an official space for queer athletes at any other Olympics, and organizers of Pride House at the 2010 Winter Olympics are hoping it will be a statement about the outlook of British Columbia and of Canada in general. It’s an amazing thing to have a space that defies homophobia in sport.
Pride House acknowledges that there are queer athletes at the games, even if they don’t want to come out. It’s understandable- these athletes, have spent their lives dedicated to their sport, and the Olympics are one of the goals they’ve set for themselves. To talk about their sexuality in a largely homophobic arena could spell doom. Coaches could desert them. Teammates could turn on them. Future deals in endorsements could go sour. Everything they’ve known about their lives so far could be compromised by coming out and being honest about their sexuality.
I’d like to think things can be changed. Hockey, one of the most macho (and Canadian) sports of all has seemed to have softening moments. When Brendan Burke, son of Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke came out (and people certainly reacted to it), his father was supportive. While acknowledging his son would not have an easy road, particularly in the field of sports, Burke vowed to support him. Since Brendan’s sudden death earlier this month in a car crash, his father has said he’ll continue to fight homophobia in sport and carry on his son’s work.
Some folks may argue that sports isn’t about sexuality, it’s about competition. But it is about sexuality if you have to hide who you are to play. It is about sexuality if the outcome of your event is influenced by how people perceive your sexuality. And homophobic commentators during these Olympics Games (for all our liberality, Canadians did it too) have certainly proven that sexuality is an issue in sport. Coming out in such an outwardly heterosexual world is an act of courage. It carves a space for others to do so too.
Homophobia and AIDS phobia are linked. Both inhibit people from being honest about who they are and the complexities of their lives. In a world fascinated with celebrities of all kinds, sports heroes don’t escape scrutiny. We want to know what they wear and how they like their lattes. But if they share who they love, and it’s not the heterosexual norm, that’s a different story. I want that ending to change and I think Pride House is an indication that slowly, we’re moving in that direction. Let the enlightenment begin.