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Brian Hodder: The Olympics — so many reasons to be filled with pride

(From left) Canada’s Scott Moir, Tessa Virtue, Eric Radford, Meagan Duhamel, Kaetlyn Osmond, Gabrielle Daleman and Patrick Chan celebrate their gold medal victory in the team figure skating event at the Pyeonchang Winter Olympics, Feb. 12 in Gangneung, South Korea. — Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press
(From left) Canada’s Scott Moir, Tessa Virtue, Eric Radford, Meagan Duhamel, Kaetlyn Osmond, Gabrielle Daleman and Patrick Chan celebrate their gold medal victory in the team figure skating event at the Pyeonchang Winter Olympics, Feb. 12 in Gangneung, South Korea. — Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

Many of us have been glued to the television over the past few days as the Winter Olympics have gotten underway in PyeongChang, South Korea. With all of the turmoil in the world, including in this particular region of Asia, it is refreshing to focus on an event that celebrates the excellence of athletes from all over the world.

Brian Hodder
Brian Hodder

 

Canadians feel a great sense of pride in the accomplishments of our athletes, and people in this province — especially those like me who grew up in Marystown — are beaming with pride at the gold medal won by Kaetlyn Osmond in the team figure-skating competition this past weekend. This pride in my country extends far beyond the athletic competition as this event affords Canada an opportunity to promote our values in support of the athletes as human beings first and foremost, and this is particularly true for LGBTQ2 people.

While many advances have been made across the world with regards to the acceptance of LGBTQ2 people, sports remains one of the areas where safety is not always assured and many athletes remain in the closet. In an effort to offer them support and provide a safe place where people can come together to share information, socialize and challenge the discrimination that exists in sports, Olympic organizers have opened Pride Houses in Olympic Villages to meet this need.

The first Pride House was established in Vancouver during the 2010 Winter Olympics, and most major gatherings of athletes have established them since then. The largest Pride House was established during the 2015 Pan-Am Games in Toronto. The one glaring exception was during the Sochi Games in 2014 when Russian authorities blocked all efforts to open a Pride House, which in itself serves as a reminder of why such a venue is needed, considering the serious challenges faced by LGBTQ2 people in Russia.

The welcome message posted outside Canada House makes it very clear that people of all sexual orientations, gender expressions, etc., from all countries of the world are welcome inside the walls without fear of persecution.

When South Korean organizers were unable to raise enough money to open a standalone LGBTQ2 centre during these games, the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) stepped up to help in a big way. The COC partnered with Pride House International to declare Canada House — where Canadians traditionally gather during the games for a taste of home — as Pride House, also, for these games.

This marks the first time that Pride House has been integrated into the same space of a country’s centre and this reflects how well members of the LGBTQ2 community have been accepted and integrated into Canadian society. It also marks the first time that a Pride House has been established during a games held in an Asian country.

The welcome message posted outside Canada House makes it very clear that people of all sexual orientations, gender expressions, etc., from all countries of the world are welcome inside the walls without fear of persecution.

It makes me feel so proud of Canada that we seem to understand and embrace the spirit and ideals upon which the Olympic movement was established. While the Olympics have had their share of challenges, ranging from doping scandals to corrupt officials, they remain the underlying goal of most athletes in Canada and across the world: to test oneself against the best while representing one’s country. This pursuit of excellence is universal, and sexual orientation should not be an impediment to reaching for this ideal for any athlete.

It gives me a great sense of satisfaction that Canada is showing the way in word and in deed that the Olympic ideals are alive and well, despite the challenges in this world. While the games are built on competition, they can serve as a unifying force as the athletes mix and mingle as one community once their events are completed.

We are all one community, including our LGBTQ2 members, and if we can come together in the celebration of sports, we can unite in other areas as well. It is possible to compete and co-exist peacefully, and this message of the Olympics should not get lost in the years between games.

Brian Hodder is an LGBTQ2 activist and works in the field of mental health and addictions. He can be reached at bdhodder@hotmail.com.

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