By LES JOHNSON
Pride House International is attempting the impossible — using a simple human gesture to influence the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. The 2014 Games have brought attention to the alarming homophobia of host country Russia. Pride House International is calling on everyone present to take every opportunity to demonstrate an act of love and friendship by simply holding hands with a person of the same sex, whatever their own sexual orientation.
Pride House International is a coalition of some of the largest international LGBT sport and human rights groups, including participants in past and future Pride Houses, united to promote the cause of equality in and by sport and the creation of Pride Houses at international sporting events. 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) and London (2012 Summer Olympics). Pride Houses are planned for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, the 2015 Pan-American Games in Toronto, and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.
Pride House International members have a long history of trying to influence the international sporting community, including the Federation of Gay Games’ “Principle 5 Campaign” for changes to the Olympic Charter. We are currently focused on actions for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, for visibility at Sochi, and for long-term change within the International Olympic Committee and other national and international sports governing bodies. Unfortunately, it has become clear that having a physical Pride House hosted in Russia during these games has now become unlikely. Planning efforts to support remote Pride Houses around the world are in the works.
This has made our Same-Sex Hand-Holding Initiative (SSHHI) so very important. We are calling on everyone – athletes, press, officials, spectators, etc. – present in Sochi to take every opportunity simply to hold hands with a person of the same sex, whatever their own sexual orientation. According to Russia, according to the IOC, this is “gay propaganda.” Will the Russians be arresting every athlete on every podium who dares raise the hand of his rivals? Will the IOC be disqualifying every athlete who embraces her female coach? The current state of absurd thinking in the Olympic movement must be highlighted so that change can occur.
Many of us are doing our part to protest the laws of Russia. But as sports organizations our focus needs to be finding ways to eliminate homophobia and transphobia in sport. Please spread the word of our Same-Sex Hand-Holding Initiative campaign. The only way the IOC will change is if athletes who participate in sport, if officials who govern sport, if sponsors who finance sport, if fans and consumers who support sport, act to show that sport must be for everyone.
We are trying to change the world — we hope you’ll join us and take our hand.
Les Johnson is co-chair of the Federation of Gay Games’ external affairs committee, gaygames.org. Learn more about Pride House International at pridehouseinternational.org. Support the Same-Sex Hand-Holding Initiative by uploading a photo of you holding hands with a person of the same sex at holdhandsinsochi.tumblr.com.