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Olympic Pride House: Staff stand up for Johnny Weir at press conference

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Pride House Whistler held a news conference yesterday afternoon (Wednesday) in an effort to continue to raise its profile at the Olympics–particularly in light of the homophobic comments made about figure skater Johnny Weir by a pair of Canadian broadcasters.

Much of the event, which took place at the Whistler Conference Centre, involved reintroducing Pride House and recapping the issues facing gays in sport  for the benefit of media who hadn’t already been following along.

When it came time for questions, however, talk turned to Weir and the remarks made about him on the French language Canadian television network RDS.

Commenting on Weir’s free skate, RDS reporters Alain Goldberg and Claude Mailhot criticized Weir’s perceived femininity, both in dress and style, and said he set a bad example in figure skating.

Jennifer Birch-Jones of the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport responded saying:

Caryl Dolinko of Interpride and Jennifer Birch-Jones of the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport

“I certainly was sad that it was a Canadian broadcaster, because I think in Canada we pride ourselves on our culture of acceptance, and certainly our legal framework. But I think it reminds us again that, just because we have a legal framework and have the rights and entitlements, does not mean we are free from discrimination and homophobic comments. I think it’s disrespectful to the athletes.  I think it’s also disrespectful to women–the feminization comments and all that.”

Birch-Jones added, however, “The good news is that it was only two broadcasters, and there are many more here, so I think that we need to look at the positive side as well.”

Click the link below to read the rest of this entry and to read about skeleton gold medalist Jon Montgomery’s visit to Pride House

Another reporter asked the panelists if they thought Johnny Weir should “clear up the ambiguity surrounding his sexuality.”  Pride House’s Dean Nelson replied:

The panelists: Dean Nelson of Pride House ...

“It’s irrelevant as to what his sexuality is. He’s a performer.  He’s an athlete. And he’s there to do a job.  So he just needs to go out there and do his very best.”

Olympic gold medal swimmer Mark Tewksbury added:

“That’s really up to Johnny Weir. I don’t even know if Johnny Weir knows yet.  Who are we to presume that he’s going to identify as gay, straight, bisexual, transgender?  Who knows?  But that’s up to Johnny Weir to decide, and when he’s good and ready he can tell us.  But that’s his own personal journey, and it’s really none of our business.”

Weir, it seems, is on the same wavelength as Nelson.  He held his own news conference in Vancouver not long after the Whistler Pride House one.

According to The National Post, Weir told a reporter at the conference, “The reason I am not more explicit about who or what I sleep with is because I think it doesn’t matter.”

B.C. Local News has some video of the news conference on their web site.

Goldberg and Mailhot are not the only broadcasters to make homophobic comments during their 2010 Olympic figure skating coverage.  Members of  Australia’s LGBT community were outraged with commentators Mick Molloy and Eddie McGuire over equally juvenile comments about the skaters’ outfits. “They don’t leave anything in the locker room these blokes do they?” remarked McGuire.  He also referred to one skater’s costume as “a bit of a Brokeback.”

Olympic Gay Pride March?

Prior to the news conference, staff and guests of Pride House Whistler staged a  miniature Pride march through Whistler village, from Pride House to the Whistler Conference Centre.  Here’s what it looked like.

The parade leaves Pride House Whistler

Pride House's Dean Nelson carries part of the rainbow flag into the press conference

The march pauses for a moment near the Olympic rings.

Skeleton gold medalist visits Pride House

Jon Montgomery may be straight, but he’s not narrow. The gold medal winner in last Friday’s men’s skeleton is the first 2010 Olympic competitor to pay a visit to Pride House–and he said he was proud to have been invited. Montgomery attended a Pride House media reception in the lounge of the Pan Pacific hotel, Pride House’s host hotel. There, he proved he doesn’t just slide fast, he can talk fast too! Montgomery demonstrated his skills as an auctioneer, selling off a handful of Olympic souvenirs to raise money for charity.

Jon Montgomery, gold medalist in men's skeleton, at Pride House's media reception

He then went over to Pride House itself, where he posed for photographs with visitors and loaned his gold medal to Edmund Haakonson’s nude hockey sculpture, Slapshotolus.

I had the opportunity to talk to Jon briefly for OutQ.

OutQ: There’s been a huge amount of talk in the media, because of Pride House, about the whole issue of homophobia in sport and the fact that a lot of athletes don’t feel comfortable being out of the closet sometimes with their own teammates. And I’m just curious about your experience as a current member of the Canadian Olympic team–and with bobsled and skeleton and luge specifically–if you have any thoughts about how your team is in regards to gay athletes. (I don’t even know if you have gay athletes on your team.)

Jon: Well, as a matter of fact, we do. And I think in amateur athletics it isn’t as pronounced as it is in professional athletics. I think in professional athletics, I’m talking NHL, NBA and NFL, I don’t know if there’s ever been an openly gay member of a professional sports team. … But in amateur athletics, I don’t think that the same climate necessarily exists. I personally have had gay teammates, and I know there are some from the U.S. as well that have been openly gay on both the men’s and women’s side.

l-r: 1992 Olympic gold medalist Mark Tewksbury, Pride House's Dean Nelson, Slapshotolus, Canadian women's skeleton team member (and Jon's girlfriend), Darla Deschamps, Jon Montgomery, and Pride House's Ken Coolen.

We all change together at the same start house, men and women, gay and straight, bisexual, all that stuff. There seems to be no barriers to who is welcome and who is not welcome. And I feel privileged to be able to participate in a sport where homophobia, as far as I know, doesn’t necessarily exist. And I shouldn’t say that, because I’m not really paying attention all the time, so you’d maybe have to ask one of the gay athletes if they experience that or not, but as far as I know, there’s been no issue with it, and I certainly have none.

OutQ: I was talking to Mark Tewksbury a few days ago, and he was saying that the athletes are so cloistered during the Olympics–often times, you’re in one secure zone, you get trucked over to another secure zone to compete–you don’t often have a sense of what’s going on outside of the little bubble that you’re kept in. Do you know if folks on the Olympic team knew that Pride House existed? Did you know it existed?

Jon: I did, yeah, because we’d eaten at Earl’s several times so I’d seen Pride House. I had heard prior to the games that there was going to be a Pride House. When they say prior to the games where Swiss House is and where all the other houses are and all that, they included Pride House in that. And I thought that it was pretty special that it was going to be the first time and that it was part of the games that I was going to participate in.

OutQ: Would you be interested in sending a message to the other competitors here at the Olympics who may or may not be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender?

Jon: All folks, all walks of life, I’d love to send my support to all the athletes and all the people who are fans, whether you are gay, straight, transsexual, bisexual – I don’t know if there are any multisexuals out there. But anybody, please get invested in sport. Look to it for cues on what it is that can hopefully help you deal with struggles and turmoil in your life. Because undoubtedly, athletes are beacons of light when it comes to hard times, and they can show you what it’s like to persevere through trials and tribulations. Although it’s not that we’re discriminated against, necessarily, but we do face obstacles in our daily life, and perhaps that will be some sort of inspiration for folks who experience that.

Jon Montgomery and me. Boy is that medal ever bright.

A side note: If you’re thinking that Jon’s rosy portrayal of his sport as being free of homophobia is the imagined reality of someone who does not, in fact, experience homophobia, allow me to share an anecdote that might back Montgomery up:

When preparing to cover Pride House for OutQ, I contacted the spokespeople for every Olympic team I could possibly talk to in English or French and asked them if they had any athletes that were out as gay. The responses ranged from the mildly helpful to the defensive (and, hands down, the most defensive reactions of all were from the spokespeople for the figure skating federations).

Gordy Sheer, Director of Marketing and Sponsorship for U.S.A. Luge, was completely different. The moment I introduced myself as a freelancer for OutQ, he remarked, “I bet I know why you’re calling me.” He then informed me that there were gay athletes on the U.S.A. luge team, but that none had qualified for the Olympics. He seemed genuinely disappointed to not have a good gay story for me.

So, future gay Olympians, if you’re looking for a sport where you can feel comfortable being yourself, it could just be that luge, skeleton, and bobsled are a good bet–provided, of course, you like the idea of going 90mph down an ice slide.

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Written by heatherkitching

February 25, 2010 at 11:23 AM

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