Vancouver city councillor Tim Stevenson is set to depart for Sochi, Russia, Tuesday (January 28) to advocate for LGBT rights and the inclusion of Pride Houses as part of future Olympic games.
Stevenson, who will represent Vancouver as deputy mayor, told the Straight he plans to meet with members of the International Olympic Committee and the Canadian Olympic Committee. Mayor Gregor Robertson has also sent letters seeking meetings with Russian officials, the mayor of Sochi, and civic groups.
“We’d like them to understand that sexual orientation needs to be put in the charter of the IOC, and that sports is a very, very homophobic place, kind of the last bastion of homophobia, and that Olympic athletes who are GLBTQ feel discriminated against, have a very difficult time, and that that’s the reason we need a Pride house in Olympic host cities,” Stevenson said by phone.
The Vision Vancouver councillor, who is gay, noted that the first Pride House, which was held during the Winter Olympics in Vancouver in 2010, was “hugely popular”.
“There’s all kinds of discrimination within all of the sports, and athletes don’t feel safe, they don’t feel they can be out and be themselves, and when they are, there’s discrimination, and so it’s a place for them to go, and be safe,” he stated.
Stevenson will be travelling with project manager Maureen Douglas, a former member of the organizing committee for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games.
The councillor called the response from some other countries “terrific”. For example, he noted, the U.S. delegation travelling to Sochi includes gay athletes.
“Minister [John] Baird has been making very strong statements about Russia and the law…and that’s excellent, but I wish we had done this extra step,” said Stevenson.
“We just took a delegation to Israel,” he added. “It would have been wonderful to take a delegation to Sochi that included gay and lesbian people and supporters and clergy who were supportive.”
Stevenson and Douglas will be in Russia from February 1 to 8. Their trip is timed to coincide with when the International Olympic Committee meets. The Winter Olympic Games take place from February 7 to 23.
Stevenson noted he also aims to speak with LGBT organizations and officials from the Russian Orthodox church, which has backed controversial anti-gay legislation.
“I’m really looking forward to these meetings and hope that in some way, my intervention might help bring about changes,” he said.