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Olympic Pride House: Movie night addresses homophobia in sport

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Openly gay Olympic gold medalist Mark Tewksbury opened Tuesday’s Pride House movie night by saying that he never imagined he’d still be talking about homophobia in sport in 2010.  He said that ten years ago, he figured there would be tons of out gay athletes by now.  Instead, here he is still talking.

Tewksbury introduced the two films screened at Pride House’s movie night last night.

Michele Aboro is the subject of the documentary A Knock Out, which explores how image trumps talent in professional boxing

The first was Tessa Boerman and Samuel Reiziger’s film A Knock Out, which tells the story of world champion boxer Michele Aboro, who is dropped by her promoter despite a perfect 21-0 record because she was deemed “unpromotable.”  The film explores how Aboro, a mixed race lesbian from South London, rose up from an underprivileged background to make it big in sport only to realize that sometimes, image counts more than talent.  Her story is juxtaposed against that of wildly successful German pro boxer Regina Halmich, a blond-haired beauty who poses for Playboy, does press conferences in her underwear, and models for vampy photo shoots.

Jennifer Harris (front) finally brings down homophobic coach Rene Portland in Training Rules

Jennifer Harris (front) takes homophobic coach Rene Portland to court in Training Rules.

The second film was Dee Mosbacher’s Training Rules, about the highly-publicized case of Penn State women’s basketball coach Rene Portland. For close to 30 years, Portland maintained a well-documented policy of booting lesbian athletes off her team-until she was finally taken to court in 2006 by star player Jennifer Harris.  Training Rules tracks down several of Portland’s former team members, who relay heartbreaking tales of harassment and repression.  It also explores the powerful influences at play in sport that allowed Portland to continue coaching for years, even after the University passed a sexual orientation non-discrimination policy in 1992.

To read the rest of this entry and see more photos from Pride House, click the link below.

The homophobia in sport panel l-r: Shelley Howieson, Karin Lofstrom, Ashley McGhee and Mark Tewksbury

Following the films, the audience stuck around for a panel discussion featuring Tewksbury, Simon Fraser University soccer coach Shelley Howieson, Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport executive director Karin Lofstrom, and University of Rochester, Michigan  scholarship athlete-turned Vancouver Whitecamps soccer player Ashley McGhee.

When asked about her own experience of homophobia in sport, McGhee reported that she has been out pretty much all of her life and has seldom had a problem.  That prompted an audience member to ask whether more athletes like her needed to speak up and assure others that coming out often isn’t such a big deal.  He cited statistics from the local gay newspaper indicating solid public support for out athletes.

Mark Tewksbury MCs Pride House movie night

“There’s a disconnect for me,” said Tewksbury, “because of the numbers that you’re saying.  It’s that nasty subtle hand of discrimination that pervades sport, and though people tell you facts, the feeling of being out on the team does not reflect that.”

Tewksbury said he’s been feeling caught between the reality he knew as an athlete and a new reality reflected by individuals like hockey GM Brian Burke, who spoke out publicly and forcefully in favor of his gay son, Brendan (who died in a car accident Feb. 5).

“You know, there’s never ever been a gay hockey player ever,” said Tewksbury.  “Even in retirement, no one’s come out.  And suddenly this guy who’s like one of the roughest, gruffest, most masculine managers in the NHL says it’s ok to be gay, and if there’s a gay person in the Maple Leaf organization, they have a job and a place here.  I would’ve assumed Brian Burke would’ve been terrible with the gay issue, but when push came to shove, he wasn’t.  So how many more false assumptions are we making?”

Tewksbury then told the story of competing for the first time at a gay sporting event and meeting six other swimmers he used to train with.  “And I was like “What?!!  You were all gay too?!” he yells. “Suddenly 25% of the team that I trained with was gay, and yet we all suffered in isolation.  So I’m torn between the reality that it is a difficult environment where people are sacrificed and nasty things happen and a shifting reality that is based on assumptions we keep perpetuating.”

Random pics from Pride House

It’s been a while since I posted photos of the day-to-day life of Pride House and its visitors.  Here are a few I’ve taken in the past few days.

Tyler and Charley from Olympics or bust dressed as their favorite female U.S.A. Olympians

Andre shows off his Quebec pride

Carvin is rooting for the Rainbow Nation.

Ehsan lives in Vancouver now, but he's still cheering for Sweden.

Ehsan lives in Vancouver now, but he's still cheering for Sweden.

Pride House Whistler watches Canadian skeleton medalist Jon Montgomery get his gold.

Sonia, Debbie and Lizanne from Seattle (and their adorable pooch) represent for Team U.S.A.


Written by heatherkitching

February 24, 2010 at 8:49 AM

One Response

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  1. I encourage everyone to drop by the Whistler Olympic Pride house. I just interviewed Dean Nelson, the executive director of Pride House the other day. See it here and then take a virtual walk around pride house and Whister at


    February 24, 2010 at 3:07 PM

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