Sochi Olympics Pride House

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In a Spirit of Friendship, Solidarity and Fair Play

Contributors: Gordon Dunbar, Co-chair of Pride House Toronto for the 2015 Pan Para American Games, and Duy Q. Ngo, Vice-President of GLISA North America (Gay & Lesbian International Sport Association)

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the recent Russian decision to ban a Pride House at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi. In fact, this blatant contravention of citizens’ rights by the Russian government is a yet another compelling argument for the IOC to add human rights to the Olympic pillars of sport, culture, and the environment.

To date, the Russian government and its judiciary have repeatedly banned Russian gay activists from creating a Pride House at the 2014 Winter Olympics. Modeled on the very successful Pride House erected for the 2010 XXI Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, this pavilion was to continue the work of celebrating LGBTQ athletes and trainers and promoting understanding of the issues they face in sport.

Russian claims that a Pride House will undermine “family motherhood and childhood protection…and sovereignty” are grossly misdirected and factually wrong. In communities around the world where LGBT individuals are respected and provided with equality rights, family values are reinforced through marriages and adoption as well as support for the family structure. Furthermore, studies have shown that in neighborhoods where there is a strong presence of LGBT communities, quality of life is high. In short, gays are good for everyone.

A Pride House is not propaganda for minorities and will not subvert the Russian state as that government claims. On the contrary, a Pride House is a peaceful celebration of the diversity that already exists in Russia and its federation. A Pride House reinforces Russia as a democratic state that respects both citizen rights and universal human rights; and it embraces the diversity of the international sports community arriving in Sochi.

The Russian government’s exclusion of a Pride House stands in stark contrast to the image that the country wants to convey to the world. How can Russia showcase its progress as well as its charms as a travel destination to an international population when it willingly contravenes and tramples on the human rights of own citizens?

In fact, recent laws banning “homosexual propaganda” in St. Petersburg and other cities have already prompted other governments to issue travel warnings to LGBT citizens thinking of traveling to Russia. The Russian decision regarding Pride House will send a further chill around the world.

The love of sport, respect for our shared human aspirations, and desire for peaceful co-existence are the heartbeat of the Olympic movement. Currently the Olympic pillars are; sports, culture and the environment. The environmental pillar was added in 1994 in recognition of the negative impact major sporting events can have on the surrounding environment.

While the IOC’s official stance is that the Olympic Games are a sporting, not a political event, the boycott of South-African sports teams in 1976, during the apartheid regime, demonstrated that sport can strengthen the cause of human rights.

The IOC is tarnishing the human rights legacy of the Olympics by turning a blind eye to abuses. It needs to learn the lessons from Beijing and now Russia that the Olympics sporting event should not be placed against a backdrop of human rights violations, with activists prevented from expressing their views peacefully or put in detention by host countries when they have committed no crime.

The IOC must put its core values of human dignity into practice by enshrining and upholding international human rights, which includes LGBTQ rights, as its fourth pillar alongside sport, culture and environment.

The IOC could solidify this intent by building concrete and measurable human rights and LGBTQ rights impact indicators into all future Olympic bid processes and host country and city contracts.

The exclusion of a Russian Pride House is a clear violation of the Olympics spirit, which states “The goal of the Olympic movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination or any kind, in a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”

Russian LGBT organizers have reached out to the IOC in light of their country’s actions against a Pride House. The ball is now in the International Olympic Committee’s court to meet their concerns.