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Pride House debuts at Winter Olympics
by Ross Forman

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The LGBT community certainly will have a proud presence at the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver ( Feb. 12-28 ) , even if there are not any openly gay athletes.

The first-ever Olympic Pride House will be located in the boutique hotel known as The Pan Pacific Whistler Village Centre, marking the first time in Olympic history that gay athletes will have a dedicated place to relax with family, friends and fans.

The Pride house was coordinated by, whose WinterPride gay ski week has been named the number-one gay-ski event in the world by and PlanetOut.

Pride House will be open Feb. 8-March 24, for three events: The Olympics, WinterPRIDE and the Paralympics.

"This is a very exciting time for the resort of Whistler, and I am thrilled to be able to contribute in making these games one of the most inclusive to date," said Dean Nelson, 40, of Whistler, who is the CEO/executive producer of and Pride House. "There is a lot of excitement and energy around what we are creating with Pride House. It has never really been done before, and that is giving people a new reason to be excited about the Olympics.

"The [ local ] annual Gay & Lesbian ski week, WinterPRIDE, normally happens the first week of February. With the 2010 Olympics scheduled [ to start ] the week following, we needed to look at how we could work with our local community, tourism bureau and the Games producer in finding a time slot that would work for everyone. We determined that the transition period of March 1-8 in between the Olympics and the Paralympics would work best for everyone. Once we had secured the festival's week we began working on a strategy to be part of the Olympics by creating a venue that would be a fun and celebratory place while creating a dialogue on homophobia within sport and beyond."

Nelson said the only expectation for Pride House is "to create a warm, welcoming environment where like-minded individuals can come and cheer on their favorite athletes, meet people from around the world, and to create a dialogue on homophobia within sport by having this diversity pavilion part of the Games."

Pride House has several events planned, including special movie screenings of Training Rules, presented by CAAWS, the Canadian Association for Advancement of Women in Sports & Physical Activity; and Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride, presented by PFLAG Canada ( Parents & Friends of Lesbians & Gays ) . Both screenings will include special post-screening panel discussions featuring Canadian Olympic gold medalist Mark Tewksbury as emcee. Plus, there will be a special presentation by Pride House artists Edmund Haakoson and Jeff Sheng.

Pride House Whistler's maximum capacity is 100 people; the Pride House Vancouver Celebration Venue's is about 300.

"Our primary goal for Pride House is based on awareness and creating dialogue on homophobia within sports and at the community at large," said Nelson, who has lived in the skiing mecca of Whistler for 15 years. "Therefore, our goal is not determined by [ the ] number of visitors. We know that people will be curious about the pavilion and will want to come and experience the pavilion and see some of the art exhibitions we will have on display, watch the Olympics, hang out and meet interesting people from around the world."

And what about safety?

"The resort community is a very open and welcoming environment that embraces the value of being authentic," Nelson said. "The community is very proud of the initiatives that we are creating and our fight for respect and equality throughout the world. We do not anticipate we will have [ anti-gay ] problems, but [ we are ] working with the Pan Pacific Whistler Village Centre and the local authorities. We have procedures in place that we are able to act upon should the need arise."

Nelson, who is single, said his favorite sports are snowboarding, hiking and mountain biking. And, naturally, he is a fan of the hometown Vancouver Canucks of the National Hockey League ( NHL ) . His favorite pro athlete is international rugby sensation Gareth Thomas who, in December, announced he is gay.

Nelson participated in the 2006 and 2009 World Outgames in Montréal and Copenhagen, respectively, in the human-rights conferences.

"It is our hope that London 2012 will want to continue with the concept and produce Pride House and, more importantly, in Sochi in 2014 [ since ] being gay in Russia is not as comfortable. Having this pavilion [ in Sochi ] could be a safe and welcoming venue for many. We would be honored to have this as a legacy we are able to offer future Olympics," Nelson said.

Nelson said he does, in fact, expect Pride House to be visited by Olympians, along with their family, friends and allies, regardless of sexual identity or preference.

"Pride House is a substantial investment, considering we are renting prime space during the Olympics for a total of 42 days, spanning the Olympics, WinterPRIDE and the Paralympic Games," Nelson said. "Pride House is only made possible by the generous support of our sponsors that believe in the concept and want to be part of this historical event. Our sponsors include: St. Paul's Hospital Foundation-BC Centre in Excellence in HIV/AIDS, Barefoot Wines, Whistler Beer, Whistler Water, Ethical Bean Coffee, Interactive Male, Sugoi, Air Canada, GLISA, InterPride, Travel Gay Canada, Qmunity-BC's Queer Resource Centre, Virgin Radio, Whistler Question, Pink Banana and LOV Magazine.

So how will Pride House be judged a success?

It already is, Nelson said, "in that our goal was to create a dialogue on homophobia and raise awareness.

"We have already generated good pre-Olympic coverage on the pavilion and anticipate once the world media descend on Vancouver/Whistler that will only intensify with even more global coverage. In the last couple months, we have seen some high-profile athletes and coaches come out and we hope with Pride House it may give the nudge, the inspiration to others to come out and celebrate their full authentic selves. Having more positive role models for our youth to look up to and inspire to. Perhaps this may prevent one less teenage suicide, public pressure may help repeal legislation that openly discriminates against LGBT people."

Pride House has already received incredible worldwide media coverage in such outlets as the New York Times, Globe & Mail, National Post, UK's Guardian, Italy's Republic and Australia's DNA magazine, plus various radio and TV networks.

"The Olympics made producing the annual Gay & Lesbian Ski week a bit more complicated," Nelson admitted. "Some of our venues have changed slightly and it has also meant that we are keeping the programming of WinterPRIDE quite streamlined. It has forced us to be very proactive and get all of our programming in place well ahead of schedule. Pride House is just complimenting those efforts.

"We encourage everyone to come out and support the initiative by talking about homophobia and celebrating our accomplishments. Facebook, Twitter, blog your experiences and share your stories. By being more visible, it gives us the ability to move forward and inspire others around us to live full authentic lives and being proud of who we are."

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