Oh, Canada! GayWhistler has announced that gay athletes will get their own meeting place in Whistler. The facility will include a meeting area, lounge, TV, and most importantly, a safe place for gay athletes and their friends. This is the first time a specific house has been created based on sexual orientation.
Personally, I think this is a great step to make gay athletes feel more accepted, create common bonds and friendships in the world of sports which rarely touches on the topic of homosexuality beyond a heated slur during the moment of battle.
At first thought, I questioned the need for a safe haven for gay athletes. With the thousands of competitors, I can hardly think of any active out athletes beyond a spattering of figure skaters and a tribe of lesbian softball players. Outsports.com reports that there were only 10 out gay athletes in the Beijing games. Perhaps GayWhistler is banking on the “Field of Dreams” technique that “If you build it, they will come”. With a number of participating countries where homosexuality is still considered taboo, having a safe haven in an already liberal Vancouver could give them that push to accept and embrace their sexuality without the social pressures from their home country.
Although, this is an important step in accepting gay athletes, the ratio of openly gay athletes to total athletes is still alarmingly low. Some, like Judo athlete Lauren Meece, believe that their first priority should be to focus on their goal for gold and that gays should “shut up” so they can focus on winning. Although I can understand that argument, the goal of sporting competition goes beyond a final medal count. The spirit of the sport and the Olympic games is about respect between athletes and teammates, acceptance of political, religious and sexual differences and the emergence of role models sparked by dramatic story lines. Gay athletes are not expected to raise the pride flag higher than their country colors; but the mere appearance and honest participation from a gay athlete plants the seed for a solid gay role model in a land that is often lacking beyond the iconic cliches.
I can just imagine the excitement if a soccer, hockey, or basketball player came out during their playing career. I can hear the ground break and stereotypes shatter when the first sprinter, first boxer, first snowboarder reveals beyond being an elite athlete, they also happen to be gay. How many kids would it teach that embracing their sexuality and fostering their sport are not mutually exclusive?
In a perfect world there would be no need for the Whistler Pride house as the mentioning of a gay athlete would be a by-line in the biography opposed to the headline. In this imperfect world there’s solace that perhaps a safe athlete house will build that foundation of acceptance within sportsmanship. I do wonder how many athletes will take advantage of this house, but sometimes the mere option is enough to get the ball rolling.