August 21, 2015 at 5:08 pm EDT | by Les Johnson
PrideHouse Toronto: Ensuring a place for all in sport
PrideHouse, gay news, Washington Blade

A group of volunteers in front of PrideHouse in Toronto. (Photo courtesy Les Johnson)

This summer, LGBT athletes, coaches, spectators and visitors to the TORONTO 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games experienced a decidedly positive, safe, welcoming and fun environment. That’s due to the efforts of PrideHouse Toronto, which has been working with the 2015 Organizing Committee and the city for the past three years to make the TORONTO 2015 Games the most inclusive multi-sport games in history. Central to these efforts is the PrideHouse Pavilion, offering a safe, welcoming space for LGBT and allied athletes, visitors and local residents to watch and celebrate the Games.

For all the successes that we have achieved in human rights, sport continues to be a human endeavor that is still not accessible to everyone, particularly LGBT people. That was made clear during the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. Not only did LGBT people not feel safe, they faced jail and persecution for being themselves as either participants or spectators.

Eleven nations competed at the TORONTO 2015 Games that still criminalize LGBT activity. Even in those countries where it is legal, our communities still face discrimination on the streets, in classrooms and on the field of play.

That’s why it was imperative for the 14 organizations that founded PrideHouseTO to send a message worldwide that there can be a place for all in sport. We know that when we make sport and recreation spaces more inclusive for LGBT people, that they become more welcoming and inclusive for everyone. This is especially important for opening doors to our young LGBT athletes.

PrideHouseTO is part of an international movement offering inclusive spaces for LGBT people and allies within multi-sport games. Akin to the various national houses at such events, they are welcoming places to view the competitions, to enjoy the event, to learn about LGBT sport and homophobia in sport and to build relations with mainstream sport. The first Pride House was organized for the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in Vancouver/Whistler, with others following in Warsaw (2012 UEFA Euro football cup), London (2012 Summer Olympics) and Glasgow Commonwealth Games (2014).

The next Pride Houses are already being planned for the Rio Olympics in 2016, the South Korean Winter Olympics in PyeongChang in 2018, and the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 2020. Pride House representatives from all those countries are visiting Toronto to get a first-hand look at the largest Pride House to date.

PrideHouse Toronto has achieved a number of firsts. For the first time in Pan Am history, an openly gay runner participated in the torch relay, arising from the close partnership of PrideHouseTO with the TORONTO 2015 Organizing Committee. It’s the first to ever receive government funding, which in this case came from the government of Ontario and City of Toronto. And PrideHouse TO lead partner CIBC is the first major corporate sponsor in the history of the Pride House movement.

Located in the heart of Toronto, PrideHouse offered daily live feed games viewing at its licensed indoor lounge. Each weekend of the games, PrideHouse Celebrates! offered outdoor licensed games viewing, parties and entertainment. It took over an adjacent street where sports organizations offered sports demonstrations and recreational activities for families and people of all ages.

The Pavilion also hosted a number of visits by LGBT athletes and allies. The Canadian Olympic Committee and PrideHouseTO hosted a reception during Pride Toronto in late June with athletes and members of amateur and professional sports organizations including representatives from the Canadian Football League, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Right to Play, who all marched in the parade under the banner #oneteam. The event sent a powerful message that the movement to welcome and embrace LGBT athletes is growing at both amateur and professional levels of sport.

If you are going to be visiting Toronto, you should definitely add visiting the PrideHouse Pavilion located at 519 Church Street to your list of must do activities this summer.

Les Johnson is vice president of external affairs for the Federation of Gay Games, gaygames.org. Learn more about Pride House International at pridehouseinternational.org.

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