Dean Nelson speaks out on homophobia 

Winter Pride ski week positive despite incidents, said organizer

Whistler needs to continue combating homophobia, the CEO of GayWhistler.com said this week following negative encounters several people experienced during the annual gay and lesbian ski week.

Dean Nelson knows of at least four incidents where people experienced homophobia from staff at Whistler businesses between March 1 and 8.

"It is too bad we had a few negative encounters, because for the most part the community is very welcoming," said Nelson from his cell phone at the Whistler Pride House in the Pan Pacific Whistler Village Centre Hotel.

"The whole festival wouldn't be what it is without their support and to share the magic of the mountains is just amazing."

Nelson described the incidents as slurs and negative attitudes. He said the owners of the businesses where the incidents happened were very apologetic when they found out about them. They also took corrective steps with their employees.

But the outspoken activist added he wants to talk to Whistler's resort partners about how to curb this discriminatory behaviour.

"It looks like I need to sit down with Tourism Whistler and the municipality and hash out a diversity strategy for new recruits that come into the resort each year," said Nelson.

"It is not normal. It is more of a one-off situation where you have new employees coming in and there might not be sensitivity to diversity issues where they come from."

Usually, about one homophobic encounter happens each year at the Winter Pride ski week, said Nelson. Last year a patron was leaving a bar and was "roughed up." Two years ago some of GayWhistler's signs were vandalized.

Despite the incidents, Winter Pride was a success, he said.

About 1,500 people attended the 18 th annual gay and lesbian ski week, which is on par with what organizers had estimated for this year, given that it was scheduled right after the Olympics. And while the attendance was down 20 per cent from last year, the demographics aligned with previous years, with about 45 per cent Americans and 30 to 35 per cent Canadian.

Also, Nelson said there were many more Russian and Danish people, which he believes was due to spillover from the Winter Olympics.

"We actually had some guests who were here during the Olympics that came to Pride House and found out that Winter Pride was happening right after and some of them actually extended their stay a few days so they could experience Pride Week," he said.

People really loved the concept of Pride House, too, added Nelson. He hopes to re-create the Pride House at the conference centre for next year's ski week. He is also pursuing plans to establish Pride Houses in London in 2012, Sochi in 2014 and at the Pan-American Games in 2015.

In fact the incidents of homophobia just reinforce the need for things like Pride House, he said.

"It just proves that the Pride House is definitely important because we hear reports of homophobia even here in our community when we think the community is pretty accepting," said Nelson. "We still have work to do in our own backyard."

Nelson thanked the community for its resounding support of Winter Pride.  And he stressed his clients realize the homophobia was from individuals rather than the community as a whole.

 

 

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