An Olympic House of our own
by Al Patrick
Aug 09, 2012 | 2847 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
<b>LONDON 2012 PRIDE HOUSE</b> <i>Photo: Helen Maybanks </i>
LONDON 2012 PRIDE HOUSE Photo: Helen Maybanks
LONDON — South-African Olympic archer Karen Hultzer didn’t have to travel too far from the comforts of the Olympic Village last Saturday to attend the official opening of Pride House 2012 in Limehouse Basin. She said she came to relax, have a drink and protect the different.

“In my country, we may be a protected class in the constitution, but let’s just say our society has not caught up with our constitution. We are a Calvinistic society. We are afraid of the different. So the different needs to be protected there and everywhere really. An Olympic Pride House is a way to show that different is OK. It is a political statement. I wish it wasn’t a big deal but it is. It’s nice to have a place to come, be myself and show my support.”

Hultzer made international headlines recently as the “Olympic athlete who came out” during the London Olympics 2012. But she is quick to point out that the media tag is not completely accurate. She says she was just answering a question during an online discussion about her life. The next thing she knew, she was featured in a HuffPost article and the rest is now Olympic LGBT history.

“It was completely incidental. I live my life as I live my life. I’ve never not been out.”

Hultzer said she was glad to show her support for London Pride House 2012, though.

“There are so many gay and lesbian Olympic athletes in the Olympic Village, especially among the women. At least I think there are, if my gaydar is right. Pride House is important to show that gays and lesbians are in sports and participate at all levels.”

In two years, Russia will host the Winter Olympics and Hultzer said the idea of a Pride House for the LGBT community is something she supports and hopes continues in the future.

“I’m glad we have a place we can go and relax and it will be especially important during future Olympics in countries where you can’t really be who you are.”

Great Britain’s captain of the sitting Volleyball team, para-olympian Claire Harvey, said Pride House allows her to give 100 percent when she competes. She added that it was important for her to come out to her team.

“When I shower, I have to get out of my chair and drag myself across the shower floor. And we help each other and it can get quite physical. When we travel as a team, we sometimes have to share a bed with one or two other players because of a lack of funding. I just couldn’t remain in the closet. The team is very supportive of me but at first that wasn’t the case. But we have a saying on the team: ‘100-percent me.’ It refers to being drug-free on the court. But for me, being out allows me to give 100 percent of me when I am competing. Otherwise I would use up all my energy pretending or lying about who I am. The LGBT community has been very supportive. When you are in the Olympic Village, you are under the media spotlight, so it’s nice to be able to come here to Pride House, give something back to the community and show my support and get some support.”

This is the second Olympic Pride House for the LGBT community. The first was at the Vancouver Winter Olympics two years ago.

The idea of community “houses” at the Olympic Games is nothing new. During each Olympic games, many participating countries host community houses in the host city. Anyone can drop by, have a drink, get something to eat and see exhibits that highlight that country’s accomplishments and attractions and watch the games. Even the smaller South Pacific Island nations banded together to host a house on a platoon on the River Thames in London.

This year’s Pride House almost didn’t happen. The problem, said organizers, was a lack of funding at the last minute.

Still, a group of dedicated LGBT supporters banded together and secured a space and some funding. They landed at the ironically named yacht club “The Cruising Association.”

Londoners and longtime friends Daniel Monk and David Ross attended the first public-open day Aug. 4 at Pride House after spending the morning at the Denmark House in Central London.

“[Denmark House organizers] were welcoming and friendly, trying to sell themselves. They showed off their country’s furniture design, food and some other things,” said Monk, 46, a lecturer at London University.

Monk said he wanted to visit Pride House because “there is a gay aspect to the Olympics and it’s nice to be able to come here, have a drink and watch the games.”

“Gay sports have taken off over the last 10 years or so. So [Pride House] a natural extension of that,” said Ross, a 52-year-old lawyer.

“It’s good for gay people. It’s about saying you are here somehow. You can be a nelly queen and still into sports,” said Monk. “It’s good to celebrate the Olympics and it’s good for the gay athletes for us to show them our support.”

Delia Johnston, 57, has been working for the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games for the last year. Her job was to perform extensive background checks on all dignitaries traveling to London for the para-Olympics, which begin Aug. 29.

The tall, blond, self-proclaimed “troublemaker” said her first reaction to being hired by LOCOG was, “Wow, this is unbelievable.”

“The world’s top-tier athletes walk by me every day and no one bats an eye,” Johnston said. “I’ve worked with heads of state from all over the world, some from countries that would stone me to death or jail me. I was verbally abused by one guy so far — someone from Great Britain. You never know where it’s going to come from.”

She became involved in organizing support for Pride House 2012 for one reason, she said: “I was following the story and I noticed there was no transgendered involvement. And I thought, Where’s the T?”

However, she added it’s important that the LGBT community involve everyone in the house, not just LGBT community members.

“It’s about mixing outside also,” said Johnston.” You can come to Pride House and you don’t have to be part of our community.”

Adrian Trett, 33, lives in Strafford, a suburb of London. He is one of thousands of British citizens who volunteered to work during the games by directing foot traffic to the game venues, hosting information booths and transporting athletes and members of the Olympic Family, as the Olympic organizers like to call themselves, all around London in specially designed Olympic cars driven on Olympic-vehicles-only transport lanes.

He attended the Aug. 4 open house dressed in the now-familiar volunteer’s outfit, a purple polo shirt and khaki pants. The volunteers have become a strong presence on London streets. They are everywhere — local, temporary celebrities.

In his teens, Trett was captain of his school’s golf club, but never acknowledged his sexual orientation for fear of being excluded from his friends and teammates.

When he did come out, he stopped playing golf and forgot how important sport was to him.

“I just dropped out all together,” he said. He has since taken up golf again and his partner is captain of the local golf club’s competitive team.

Pride House is important “not only for telling LGBT in sports that it’s OK but to show our support for the Olympic athletes,” Trett said. “It’s important we have a presence in London.”

But there’s trouble ahead for Pride House.

In two years, the Winter Olympics will be held in Sochi, Russia — and the Russian Olympic Committee has already said no to a Pride House.

Pride House organizers from around Europe joined London activists Aug. 4 to discuss their options, which are limited.

“It’s going to be an uphill battle,” said Daniel Vaudrin, who attended the meeting as co-president of the Gay and Lesbian in Sports Association International. “We came up with a few ideas. We’ll see.”

One of those ideas is for various countries to host “Pride Days.”

“So the United States, for instance, could set aside a day or evening and call it Pride Day and show their support for gay and lesbian athletes.”

But for some, that might not be enough. Many who spoke to PGN said a Pride House is especially important in an antigay political environment. The Moscow municipal government this year outlawed all gay Pride parades — not just for this year but for another 100 years. A court recently upheld the decision.

Pride House organizers said they are looking forward to a successful Pride House in 2016, when Rio de Janeiro hosts the Summer Olympics. But many spoke with a tone of resignation when asked about Pride House 2014 in Russia. Not even Johnston, the self-described troublemaker, would want to take on that project.

“If they offered me a good salary to go set it up I would still say no,” she said. “It would be dangerous.”

Johnston added the way forward is for the International Olympic Committee to become more inclusive of the LGBT community and get behind Pride House, something the body has been reluctant to do so far.

“We must work to make the IOC much more inclusive,” she said. “But the question is, are they ready for that?”

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