When the first Pride House launched in Whistler during the 2010 Winter Olympics, people questioned the need for it.
“There were still people thinking like, ‘Why do you need to have a separate gay space at the Olympics? Like, why is that relevant?’ ” WinterPRIDE executive producer Dean Nelson says by phone. “And we really tried to get the message out there that in sports, homophobia is still a huge issue. And at that time, we didn’t have any major athletes really out and none of the major sporting bodies had their policies that would protect gays and lesbians on and off the field.”
Nelson says people mistakenly thought they were trying to create a gay-specific hotel. Since Whistler doesn’t have any gay bars, Nelson explains, the pavilion filled the gap.
“Creating the Pride House pavilion not only gave us a venue for gays to be able to come together and celebrate and watch the sport, but also gave us a venue for us to be able to talk about homophobia.”
While organizers were able to pass on what they learned to aid in the creation of Pride House at the 2012 Olympics in London, don’t hold your breath for a Pride House at the Sochi Winter Olympics, where Russia’s antigay legislation still rules.
That said, the timing of this year’s WinterPRIDE—the annual LGBT ski week, which runs from Sunday (January 26) to February 2—is fitting. The event, which will include an official proclamation of Pride Week by the mayor (January 30) and a Pride parade (January 31), runs just prior to the Olympics (February 7 to 23).
Nelson also sees a silver lining to the confluence of Russia’s antigay law and the Olympics.
“It looks like this could be our modern version of Stonewall, where [Russian president Vladimir] Putin has probably done more for LGBT rights in sports than he has ever imagined, because he has mobilized communities around the world to stand up for LGBT athletes and their allies and supporters and fans and everybody, and really pushing the Olympics to update Principle 6 [of the Olympic Charter] to ensure that all humanity’s protected, not just a segment of humanity…and making sure that we have future Pride Houses at other Olympic Games.”
Nelson says that at the Mr. Gay Canada grand finale at WinterPRIDE, there will be a moment to reflect on what Vancouver achieved in 2010 with the start of Pride House. He adds that the pageant will feature drag celebrity and Australian Idol semifinalist Courtney Act and Mr. Gay World 2013, Christopher Olwage.
This year’s WinterPRIDE is facing a few of its own challenges.
A lack of staff resources from the volunteer-driven Vancouver Dyke March has resulted in a decrease in women’s events at this year’s festival. And plans to collaborate with youth to discuss how those under 19 can participate were cancelled due to student exam schedules.
A more complicated concern is what will become of $37,000 in funding that WinterPRIDE received from the Resort Municipality of Whistler for a headlining entertainer.
Nelson says the event’s application for 2013 funding was denied but the municipality did conduct an economic impact study, which found that WinterPRIDE contributes $9 million to the B.C. economy. The organization received 2014 funding but after going through their talent roster (and delayed by businesses closed during the U.S. Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year’s holidays), they were unable to confirm anyone in time.
Nelson says they’re asking the municipality to hold the funds in trust for 2015. He chalks all of this up as a learning experience. After all, the show must go on.
“It’s just one of those things that we continue to evolve and flow, and we try to do different things and see what sticks and what doesn’t and if it doesn’t, we move on to the next thing.”
For WinterPRIDE info and tickets, visit www.gaywhistler.com/.