Olympics Winter

Pride House: Safe haven at the Games

The first of its kind during an Olympics, Pride House, in the heart of Vancouver's West End is ready to welcome the world.
Pride House is located in Davie Village, the heart of Vancouver's gay community. ((Evan Mitsui/CBC))

Pride House, in the heart of Vancouver's West End, is welcoming the world.

The first of its kind at an Olympics, the unofficial pavilion is tucked away on a quiet side street in Vancouver's gay village, striving to be an education centre and a safe and welcoming venue for gay and lesbian athletes, coaches, friends and families.

Canadian swimmer and former Olympian Mark Tewksbury, visiting Pride House during the Games' opening weekend, said such a venue would never have been tolerated when he was competing.

Tewksbury, who announced he was gay in 1998, won gold and bronze medals in the 1992 Barcelona Games and a silver medal in Seoul in 1988.

"Being at the Olympics was like being in an occupied country where you're never sure who you can talk to," said Tewksbury, who published the book Inside Out: Straight Talk from a Gay Jock in 2006. "If I made a mistake, it could have been the end of my livelihood and that climate is definitely [still] present."

Pride House offers visitors information about Vancouver's gay community from its location at the QMunity Queer Resource Centre on Bute Street. Televisions inside play non-stop Olympic coverage.

A sister Pride House has opened in Whistler, a rowdy pavilion considered a popular party venue. Vancouver's Pride House is much quieter, located three kilometres (a 20-minute walk) from B.C. Place and the centre of the Olympic Village.

"We don't have a ski run whipping past our front door, but we are in the heart of the Davie Village, historically the centre of the gay community in Vancouver," said Craig Maynard, chair of the QMunity Queer Resource centre.

Tewksbury thinks the distance from the Olympic Village is a good thing.

"It's a little trickier to find. But I think that's good. Vancouver's Pride House is about education, where Whistler's is more about whooping it up," he said.

Changing climate

Canadian swimmer and former Olympian Mark Tewksbury tours Vancouver's Pride House. ((Evan Mitsui/CBC))

Life for gay athletes is still difficult, but the climate is changing, Tewksbury said.

"These Olympics have turned out to be very magical because I'm a very openly gay athlete and I was invited [by Vancouver's Olympic Organizing Committee] to speak to the Canadian team before they walked into the [opening ceremony], as who I am … as a gay athlete."

The Olympics is the perfect venue for promoting an open lifestyle, he said.

"We like to pretend that sexuality and sport don't go together, but in fact, they're part and parcel of the same package. Inevitably when athletes come together it leads to a lot of sex. For sure athletes partner up at the Games, that's just what teenagers do and they're surrounded by some of the most beautiful bodies in the world. It's not rocket science."

The former Olympian said despite the charged atmosphere, there is still a prevailing misconception that "if there is a gay person on the team, they'll want to have sex with everybody.

"It doesn't quite work like that," he added.

In his opinion, Pride House is a step in the right direction, but added it's not about athletes coming out at the Games.

"The value [of Pride House] is not so much about gay people coming out, but straight people coming in. [That is] what will empower the gay teenagers [whether they are athletes or not] to feel comfortable enough to come out," Tewksbury said.


Evan Mitsui is a photographer and journalist with CBC News: The National. He has taken photos of some of the most prolific newsmakers in Canada, has covered major news events across the country and is a passionate advocate for photojournalism.