For the first time at an Olympic Games, the Olympic villages for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics will contain not just one, but two gay and lesbian pavilions.

The Vancouver games will split events between the state capital of British Columbia and the nearby alpine resort town of Whistler ­— hence the need for two villages.

The stated aims of PRIDE House Vancouver and PRIDE House Whistler are to “provide an open and welcoming venue for the LGBT community and their allies to celebrate together diversity and inclusiveness through sport”.

The Pride houses also have an activist role to play in reminding people that homosexuality is still illegal in over 70 countries. Athletes from some of these countries are participating in the Games.

PRIDE House Whistler was opened by Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed on February 8, and blessed by Sandra Laframboise, an indigenous woman and member of the GLBT community.

PRIDE House Vancouver opened three days later in a ceremony attended by a raft of politicians including Mary McNeil, Canada’s Minister of State for the Olympics.

The Pride houses will be available for gay and lesbian athletes and coaching staff looking to unwind and socialise between events, as well as their partners, friends and families.

Immigration and refugee advocates will be on hand to assist athletes from countries where discrimination against GLBT people is sanctioned by the state.

Organisers say they aim “to provide those citizens whose human rights are being denied a welcoming space to go to and find likeminded people, to find support and encouragement that is so valuable”.

The Pride houses will also educate members of the public on the long history and achievements of GLBT people in sport.
The pavilions will remain open for the Vancouver Paralympic Winter Games and will be open for close to 40 days through both Games before closing on March 21.

Neither Pride house has the official endorsement of the International Olympic Committee, however, the IOC did not object to renting Olympic village space to the houses which have been organised by Canada’s GLBT community with support from a wide range of businesses and organisations.

In 1982 the International Olympics Committee sued the organisers of what was to be the first Gay Olympics, forcing them to change its name to the Gay Games.

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