A new exhibit at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights shows how sport can be a powerful force to create positive change in society and puts a spotlight on the 2015 Year of Sport in Canada.

CMHR sport exhibit

The CMHR exhibit includes Olympic gold medals, a signed CFL hat and other memorabilia to mark inclusion and human rights advancements in sport. (Courtesy Canadian Museum for Human Rights)

The highlight is Mark Tewksbury's gold medal in the 100-metre backstroke at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

Tewksbury, who is openly gay, said he first came out to his technical coach Debbie Muir during his last year of competition in 1992.

She welled up with tears and told him, "I can't imagine how hard it's been for you all these years," adding she was 100 per cent behind him.

 "For my entire career, being gay had been a negative, a liability, and in that moment, I looked around the room — true story — and I thought to myself, 'What makes me different from these guys?' And I thought, 'I'm the fag!' In a great way. I owned it," Tewksbury said. "And I was totally empowered and went out there, dropped 1.2 seconds off my personal best, out-touched Jeff [Rouse] and won that medal by 6/100 of a second. I've always said that for me, that medal is a human rights medal. It was done via a sporting event, but it was done because someone created space for me to be me." 

At a presentation Thursday, Tewksbury said he didn't feel safe coming out publicly as a gay man until six years after his win.

Tewksbury has been a tireless advocate for athletes of all sexual orientations and gender identities since.

Tewksbury said for the first time in 18 years, he has hope for the International Olympic Committee, and it's important to remember sport can transcend the actual play on the field.

"Your medal is not just a trophy. It has become a symbol for possibilities and progress and that's why it's in the Canadian Museum for Human Rights," said Gail Stephens, CMHR interim president and CEO. "The courage and commitment of the athletes and organizations featured in this exhibit are an inspiration to all of us. Their wins are not simply measured by trophies and medals but by the difference they've made for human rights."

CMHR sport exhibit

The CMHR exhibit includes Olympic gold medals, a signed CFL hat and other memorabilia to mark inclusion and human rights advancements in sport. (Courtesy Canadian Museum for Human Rights)

The display also includes a ballet wrap or "running tutu" worn in the 1972 Boston Marathon by American Kathrine Switzer.

That was the first year women were allowed to race, five years after Switzer first challenged the rules.

In 1967, she registered for the marathon with her initials and ran in a baggy track suit.

When race officials realized she was a woman, they tried to remove her.

The exhibit includes a hat and Montreal Alouettes patch to mark the accomplishments of Herb Trawick, the first black player recruited by the team in 1946.

The hat has autographs by the 1949 Alouette team, which won the Grey Cup.

Trawick had a touchdown for the win.

Mark Tewksbury at CMHR

The CMHR has a new exhibit dedicated to sport. The highlight is Mark Tewksbury's gold medal for the 100-metre backstroke at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. On Thursday, Tewksbury said he didn't feel safe coming out publicly as a gay man until six years after his win. (CBC)

There are other items from organizations using sports to create change, including a bike helmet and jersey donated by Mountain2Mountain.

Founder Shannon Galpin, originally from North Dakota, uses cycling to break gender barriers in Afghanistan where bike-riding by women is considered immodest.

There is also a section on how technology and innovation allow people with disabilities to remove barriers and play sport.

It includes a prosthesis was used by a Hutterite boy in Manitoba who lost his arm; he used it to play hockey.