Pride House starts a new Olympic tradition 

People from around the world have been drawn to rainbow-framed doors

The locale of Whistler's cheapest cocktails is generating buzz this week for quite a different reason - it is also the place of a new Olympic tradition.

The Whistler Pride House, sitting inside the Pan Pacific Whistler Village Centre Hotel, is the first house in the history of the Olympics to pay tribute exclusively to gay and lesbian athletes, coaches, family, friends and allies.

And since opening its rainbow-framed doors last week, people around the world have been enthralled with its very existence.

Take Americans Tyler Duckworth and Charley Walters, for example.

The men behind the grassroots Olympics or Bust are self-described Olympic junkies and they see Pride House not only as a place to celebrate diversity, but also as a historic event in the pride movement at large.

"Knowing there is an actual location and a presence here is huge," explained Duckworth. "If you think about the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) movement in a country like China versus Canada, you couldn't be more diametrically opposed. In Canada, not only do you have the Swiss House and the Austrian House, but you also have the Pride House."

Duckworth believes the Pride House is the first step in what will become part of the Olympic tradition, and he is happy to be able to help get that movement off the ground.

Walters, in his 20s, has been to four other Olympic Games. He agreed with Duckworth's comments. While there is always a pride party scene at the Games, there has never been something as defiant as Pride House, he said.

"It is something that is inevitable, and I am really excited it has happened in Canada and happened where it did," said Walters. "It is a really cool place."

Organizer Dean Nelson is also pleased with the way Pride House has been greeted by the Olympic community. The long-time Whistler resident and man behind the annual Gay Ski Week decided to put together the Pride House when he realized that the ski week was going to be in direct conflict with the Olympics.

He added that the idea of the Pride House crystallized in his mind during a pride march in Budapest, Hungary, where he was almost killed for being gay.

Nelson marched with 900 people, protected by more than 1,500 police and army officers.

"They had army tanks and a huge convoy of army vehicles to give us protection, and there were rocks thrown at us and fire bombs thrown at us," said Nelson.

"It was at that point that I had crystal clarity that this is why I am here. This is why we have to create Pride House, to build that awareness. Sometimes we live in our sheltered communities and we don't always realize that it is still illegal to be gay in over 70 countries. We need to get that message out there."

Nelson added that he is being congratulated for his persistence in getting the Pride House going despite some of the obstacles in the early planning stages.

"Bob Andrea from the municipality popped by yesterday and said, 'You know, in those early days when we kept on saying no, no, no and you kept saying yes, yes, yes?'" recounted Nelson. "'Well, we are really, really glad that you were persistent and you have this up and off the ground and enhancing the Olympic experience and giving Whistler such wonderful exposure to show how supportive our community is and how it celebrates diversity.'"

The media coverage of Pride House has also been massive.

Nelson said on his last count, the story of Pride House had been presented in 70 countries around the world. That exposure is bigger than he ever imagined.

"That was one of the primary goals of Pride House was to create a dialogue and awareness of homophobia," said Nelson, who has spent the last three years working on Pride House.

Jim Douglas, the general manager of the Pan Pacific Hotel where Pride House is located, added that he is proud to support Nelson's vision.

"I though it was a very ambitious plan, and one which I was very supportive of from a resort standpoint to have the first Pride House," said Douglas. "We were thrilled about the opportunity to be involved. It is good for the resort and good for the Games and part of what we had talked about, which was positive opportunities for Whistler connected to the Games."

Fifty people attended Whistler Pride House's grand opening reception on Feb. 8, including Mayor Ken Melamed who delivered a heart-felt speech. Once the doors opened to the public that evening, approximately 150 people walked through the house.

Vancouver also had an Olympic Pride House, which opened on Feb. 11, at Qmunity, B.C.'s Queer Resource Centre on Bute Street.



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