Olympic Pride House: Government throws a party for the gays …
…and the Olympic president lets the crowd know he’s one of us
Friday appeared to be unofficial “throw a party for the gays day” here at the Olympics in Vancouver. Pride House organizers took leave of their posts for the night and went out to celebrate at not one, but two parties for the gay community.
The main event was an invitation-only party at B.C. Canada House, celebrating (to quote the invitation) “the vibrancy of B.C.’s diverse LGBT community.”
According to amateur Olympic historian Charley Walters of Olympics or Bust, this one goes down in history as the first time a government has thrown an Olympic party for the gay community.
The speaker was none other than Philip Steenkamp, president and CEO of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic games.
Steenkamp began his remarks by thanking his partner, saying, “He is a true Olympic widow. I really want to thank him for all the support that he’s given me.”
He then informed the crowd, “If you go down to the harbor now, you will see that the Olympic rings are glowing a hot pink.”
Asked later why he felt it was important to hold a party specially for the LGBT community, he replied:
“We’re wanting to showcase Vancouver and British Columbia and Canada, and the LGBT community’s a vibrant part of our society here. Really we want to celebrate our diversity and the tolerance of our culture and also showcase ourselves to the world. There’s also kind of a business imperative here. Gay tourism is worth 60 billion dollars in the U.S., so there’s some good business networking that can occur. But aside from that, it’s just a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate those Canadian values of tolerance and diversity and what creates such strength in our culture here.”
Asked if he’d like to send a message to athletes to encourage them to come out in Vancouver, Steenkamp said:
Well our provincial slogan for our games is “You gotta be here,” so for tonight, the logo is “You gotta be out here.” So we want to say to all those international athletes that you should feel comfortable being out here and take those messages home. And we want to create more and more environments like this where people just feel more and more comfortable coming out. I know it’s extremely difficult for athletes, but there are some real role models. You take small steps, but over time hopefully at Olympics in the future, this will be kind of a non-issue, and people will feel quite comfortable to be who they are and to express themselves fully, and that would be great.
By the way, check out the view of the Robson Square Olympic celebration site from the party venue on top of the Vancouver Art Gallery (right).
Manitoba throws a party for the gays too
Prior to the B.C. Canada House party, several members of the community also attended a reception at Olympic Manitoba House, hosted by the Canadian Museum of Human rights-which is slated to open in Winnipeg in 2012. Out Olympic gold medal swimmer Mark Tewksbury was the keynote speaker.
“My whole career I was always fourth or fifth. About a year and a half to go before the Olympics in Barcelona, I had this amazing breakthrough swim, and I won a silver medal at the world championships, and I was six one hundredths of a second behind the best guy in the world – an American, and I was like ‘ah! I’m there! I’ve arrived!’
“Then six months later, the American dropped 1.2 seconds off that time and destroyed the world record. And basically, with 10 months to go, I had seven years of improvement to make. So that year, I was desperate. I was open to anything to try to win – fairly! At a wedding, I met the best synchronized swimming coach in the world, and through this relationship we became friends. All of a sudden, about six months into this project … you know that point where you have a friend, and if you don’t tell them something, later you can’t be friends any more because you’ve past a point of trust? So I’m sitting there in Earle’s, and the music is playing, and I said ‘I’ve got something to tell you.’ So finally, I was like ‘ok, I’m gay.’ And I saw her face change, and she got tears in her eyes, and I was like ‘oh no, this is exactly what I was afraid of. I’m going to lose my coach and my friend and my support.’ And after she composed herself for a few seconds she said ‘it must’ve been so hard for you to keep this to yourself. Know that you have the best friend in me, and we are going to do everything to help you win that damn medal.’
“The day of the race I was in the ready room at the Olympic games. You sit there in swimming for 30 minutes with your other seven competitors before you march out, and it’s so intense. My whole career, I’d kept gay over here, and on those last moments of my swimming career, I looked around the room and I thought ‘what makes me different? I’m the fag. I’m the gay guy.’ And I meant it in a great way. And I felt this empowerment. I went out there and dropped 1.3 seconds from my personal best and out-touched the American by six one hundredths of a second at the wall, winning Canada’s first medal in Barcelona.
“Today, they would say ‘like that’s steroids, right? You can’t do that.’ And I used to say, jokingly, ‘gay power baby.’”