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Civic Impact

PrideHouse launches to queer up Toronto's Pan Am Games

After Russia’s remarkably gay-unfriendly Winter Olympics in 2014, Toronto’s Pan American Games are aiming to set out a rainbow-coloured welcome mat for queer athletes and sports fans.
Last week The 519 Church Street Community Centre unveiled its plans for PrideHouse, which will act as a hub for LGBTQ athletes and fans—and perhaps even couch potatoes—to celebrate Toronto’s games next summer. The 519 itself will become a pavilion for lounging, networking and other kinds of programming, while the Church Street village will host parties, athletic and cultural activities during the games.
“We’re trying to make sure these games are the most inclusive of all Olympic-level games ever,” said Shawn Sheridan, chair of the board of directors of OutSport Toronto, one of about 15 partner organizations working together on the PrideHouse project. “We come from a tradition that started back in 2010 in Vancouver [during the Winter Olympics] where there was a pavilion where people could really feel welcome and part of what’s going on regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation.”
In the lead up to the Pan Am and Parapan Games, 40 ambassadors will attend community events, festivals and information fairs, as well as engage in school-based outreach projects to let people all across the GTA know that sports and LGBT people are not mutually incompatible and, in fact, can get along quite nicely. More than three years in the making, PrideHouse has dedicated staff working with more than $1 million in funding to demonstrate to the 41 participating countries just how inclusive Toronto can be. Eleven of those countries have laws against LGBT people.
“It’s not always about elite performance sports,” said Kristyn Wong-Tam, speaking at the launch reception. The only out lesbian on city council, she’s also councillor for Ward 27, which includes the village. “Who doesn’t want to celebrate these sexy athletes? But we also want to create a people’s legacy” of inclusion and participation after the games are over.
Glen Murray, MPP for Toronto Centre, was the country’s first openly gay mayor when Winnipeg hosted the 1999 Pan Am Games—the last time the games were hosted in Canada. Back then, after doing an interview with a Portuguese-language TV station whose reporter was fascinated with an openly gay mayor, Murray received a deluge of emails around the world—including two from gay people who have since gone into politics themselves.
Those games “introduced me as an out queer person to a whole hemisphere,” Murray told those gathered at The 519.

Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Shawn Sheridan
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