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Pride House Announces Olympic Same-Sex Hand Holding Initiative

14 Aug

Olympics Day 4 - Gymnastics - Artistic Today, Pride House – an international coalition of LGBT sport and human rights groups announced their Same-Sex Hand-Holding Initiative, a campaign that is part of the group’s response to the International Olympic Committee’s choice of Russia as host nation for the 2014 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.

While the International LGBT community has been searching for a way to respond to Russia’s anti-gay laws including boycotts of Russian products and calls to boycott the Olympic games in Sochi altogether, Pride House has been focused on finding a safe way for Olympic participants and fans to respond while in Russia.

“The very first thing the members of the Pride House International coalition did was to ask our Russian counterparts for their leadership on our campaign,” said Lou Englefield, Director of Pride Sports UK and PHI coordinator. “Any response, no matter how well-meaning, would be inappropriate without the input of LGBT sportspeople in Russia”. Konstanin Yablotskiy from the Russian LGBT Sports Federation is part of Pride House International, and was instrumental in conceptualizing the Same-Sex Hand-Holding Initiative.

As Yablotskiy explained, “Long after the 2014 Olympics, we in Russia will continue to live under this horrible law. For a few weeks we have the opportunity to bring the attention of the world to the situation in Russia. The Same-Sex Hand-Holding Initiative enables everyone to get involved with a simple yet iconic gesture. We know from gestures like Usain Bolt’s lightning stance the impact of such images that are simple, replicable, and identifiable”.

The campaign is simple: Pride House International is calling on everyone present in Sochi – athletes, staff, media, officials, spectators, sponsors, vendors, and fans – to take every opportunity to hold hands with a person of the same sex.

copy-phi-sshhi-header-1015x276“There are extreme restrictions on the uniforms and other items worn by athletes at any Olympic Games. Flags, badges, or pins are not allowed without IOC approval, a near-impossibility, and wearing something as seemingly innocuous as pink socks or shoelaces is very difficult for athletes to do, and complex to organise for other participants and spectators,” said the Federation of Gay Games’ Les Johnson. “But everyone can hold hands with their neighbour. Indeed, raising your rivals’ hands in camaraderie is an image we see on every podium at every sporting event.”

Pride House International does urge anyone wanting to participate in the campaign to exercise caution. Hand-holding should happen only in public view with as many witnesses as possible, media and otherwise.

Same-sex hand-holding has an Olympic tradition with the organization: A Day in Hand hosted a same-sex hand-holding relay through London as part of London 2012′s Inspire cultural program.

Materials in support of this campaign (posters, t-shirts, pins, and web badges) will be available starting by early October on the Pride House International website at pridehouseinternational.org.

Other supporting actions for the SSHHI campaign will be announced soon, as will other actions for visibility of LGBT sport during the Sochi Games.

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International Olympic Committee May Join Russia in Punishing Gay Athletes

12 Aug
Openly Gay Olympic New Zealand Speed Skater Blake Skjellerup

Openly Gay Olympic New Zealand Speed Skater Blake Skjellerup

Most of you know what’s been going on between the Stoli boycotts and statements from athletes around the world with regards to the Olympics and anti-gay, draconian Russian laws.

For those who don’t, the short version is this: earlier this year, Russia passed some horrifically anti-gay laws making it illegal to “promote” homosexuality. Apparently you can BE gay, you just can’t ever tell anyone about it for fear you’ll be reported and go to prison. These laws have given cover to Neo-Nazi groups and others to take the law into their own hands by beating and murdering any person they think doesn’t measure up to their standard of heterosexuality.

Many have called on the Olympics to make strong statements against these laws and some have even called them to move the 2103 Winter Olympics out of Sochi to a place more accepting of all athletes.

The International Olympic Committee began by assuring athletes and fans that they’d spoken to Russian authorities and that Sochi athletes and fans would be exempt from the law.

Not so fast, said Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, making it clear that athletes and fans must respect the host country’s bigoted law.

Playing a media game of ping-pong, it’s left Olympic participants without any actual information regarding the situation in Russia. The truth of the matter is that no matter what kinds of assurances are made, LGBT people are not welcome and not safe in Russia. The IOC can say whatever they want to, but it will not stop some thug in a bar from kidnapping, beating and potentially murdering someone they perceive as gay.

Today, instead of actually standing up for LGBT athletes, the IOC is essentially siding with Russia and now warning lesbian and gay athletes.

Under rule 50 of the IOC’s charter: ‘No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.’

Gay Star News had asked what the global Olympic chiefs thought about plans for athletes to wear rainbow pins or hold hands during the opening and closing ceremonies.

They also asked if the IOC would provide a safe space – or Pride House – for LGBT athletes, spectators, dignitaries and others during the games to celebrate gay sport and community, as has been done in previous years.

But their spokeswoman told us: ‘Regarding your suggestions, the IOC has a clear rule laid out in the Olympic Charter (Rule 50) which states that the venues of the Olympic Games are not a place for proactive political or religious demonstration.

‘This rule has been in place for many years and applied when necessary.’

With this report, the IOC has made it clear that they have a double standard when it comes to accepting all athletes. The Pride House in Vancouver was historic in that it provided a safe space for LGBT athletes from around the world. The IOC clearly didn’t see this as a violation of Rule 50 a few years ago, but it seems as though athletes must now be forced to step back into the closet for the 2013 Sochi Olympics.

Despite confusing messages from the IOC, today Russia’s Interior Ministry has unequivocally stated that they will be enforcing their anti-gay law during the 2013 Sochi Olympic games.

Either way, if the Olympics remain in Sochi, LGBT athletes are automatically at a disadvantage. It’s really hard to perform to one’s full capabilities when one is spending part or most of their day in actual fear for their lives.

Out gay New Zealand speedskater Blake Skjellerup, told USA TODAY:

“I don’t want to have to tone myself down about who I am,” Skjellerup said. “That wasn’t very fun and there’s no way I’m going back in the closet. I just want to be myself and I hate to think that being myself would get me in trouble.”

I don’t think you’ll find a single athlete out there who’d disagree with the notion that you perform better when you don’t have to hide who you are. In fact, many said as much when basketball player Jason Collins came out last year.

At this point, I can’t imagine there is anything IOC can say to actually ensure the safety of their participants or fans – whether it be from the actual Russian government or vigilantes who are rarely if ever prosecuted for their crimes against LGBT people. While boycotts and news stories have been effective at getting the word out about the atrocities being carried out against LGBT people, none of this will actually make anyone safer in Russia. And none of it will stop LGBT athletes from constantly having to look over their shoulder as they compete for Olympic gold.

Gay Teen Athletes Reach Out to Change the World…and Meet Ellen.

20 Jan

Three kids. Three timezones. One mission. This is the banner that welcomes you to the new blog, Walk the Road.

After meeting last year on the website, The Gay Youth Corner, Brad, Robert and Ben decided they wanted to do more. Brad had the idea to start the blog and with a little help from Jim from OutSports.com, Brad called on Robert and Ben to kick things off. Brad Usselman, 16, is a runner from Washington state in the Pacific time zone. Ben Newcomer is a 16 year-old a soccer player from the Southeast in the Eastern time zone and Robert, 17  is a soccer player from the South in the Central time zone. Robert doesn’t use his last name due to his conservative surroundings, but his photo and writing is up for the world to see on the blog.

All three guys have different backgrounds and live on the west coast, east coast and midwest, providing some pretty different points of view on how life is in their respective parts of the country. What draws them together however, is the fact that they all love sports and they’re all gay.

Ben Newcomer

Combing the blog, you’ll find everything from normal teenage-angsty journal entries from Ben:

“I remember being a child, when the grass was green on both sides, when snow meant snowmen, when adults really had all the answers, and I didn’t care to know anything else. Now I’m swept up in self-acceptance, self-destruction, and self-everything-else-I’m-told-I-have-to-worry-about.”

Robert

To poetic introspection from Robert:

I’m a jock.
I’m a jock who likes guys.
I’m a jock who likes guys and cars.
I’m a jock who like guys and cars and poetry.
I’m a jock who likes guys and cars and poetry and is a dreamer.

 

 

 

 

Brad Usselman

To inspiring proclamations of pride from Brad:

“I know by coming out in the world of varsity high school sports that I put a target on my back every time I race because people do not want to be beaten by the “gay” kid. I accept that challenge. Now, if you are also an athlete on any sporting level will you accept the challenge as well? It has fueled my competitive drive to push myself every single day.”

Above all, the new blog is a window to the soul for some young kids growing up gay and bravely breaking stereotypes. The potential to inspire hundreds of other kids is incredible – This week, the guys took some time out of their busy schedules to chat with TalkAboutEquality.

TAE: When did you realize you were gay?

Robert: I knew from a pretty early age I liked guys, however I never accepted it until 5 – 6 weeks ago.

Brad: I realized I was gay in late elementary school, but i never fully accepted the fact that i was until late middle school. I always tried to deny the fact to myself.

Ben: When I was in eighth grade and in ninth and tenth and eleventh. I’m still realizing quite a bit, but it began in eighth grade.

TAE: Are you out of the closet at school and if so, what was the first reaction you got from your friends at school?

Ben: I’m out of the closet for the most part. My friends just don’t care. (Of course they care about my well-being and how being gay affects me). I think I would get a similar reaction if I told my friends that I had black ancestors. I’ve only told a few friends so I’ve only known a few reactions, but many more people know (I am in high school after all.)

Robert: I’m not out at school, but I’ve told one person (Biggest mistake – he turned out to be some creepy closet-case himself and threatened to out me, but when he realized that I didn’t care he couldn’t do much – that’s a different story though.)

Brad: I am not out of the cloest yet at school but i will be on February 9. My student government is doing an anti-bullying week and i am part of the video that is being shown on that wednesday. Most of  my friends do know though and the only thing they really did was smile and give me a hug.

TAE: When it was toughest, when you maybe thought there was no one to turn to, was there a person who inspired you and gave you the courage to be who you are?

Ben: I’m not sure I have a single “hero.”

Brad: I met a guy named Evan in the beginning of 2010 over the internet. He goes to Yale now but he has always been the person who has helped me through my hardest times. I always know he is there if i need to talk to someone. He is also gay.

Robert: Easy – Ben. I was texting him about what I should do; should I tell my mom, or should I stay where I was in my comfort zone? Prior to the day that I wrote my mom, I had thought of running my car off the side of the road, thinking it would end my problems, but I decided not to and for that I am a much happier person for that.

TAE: Why did you start your blog?

Robert: Brad came to me with the idea of starting a blog. Even though we didn’t have a specific direction we wanted to take it in, we were lucky enough to have the help of Jim from OutSports help us out quite a bit. It’s still a learning process and will continue to change as progress does. I personally want to have the feeling that I can be heard and at the same time, help someone – even if it’s only one person.

Ben: Brad asked me and I saw an opportunity to write, to voice my thoughts. Isn’t that a dream of every teenager?

Brad: I started the blog to make sure that the younger generation does not go through the same internal struggles that i went through. I want all LGBT athletes to know that there are other people like them. I hope this blog will provide a place for everyone though to come and feel comfortable as well as a place they can turn to if they need someone to talk to.

I hope the country realizes that the decisions they are making about marriage equality is effecting the younger generations and maybe even some of their children. Hopefully once we realize that everyone deserves the right to marry their loved one our country will help lead a path to were everyone in the world will be able to marry their loved one.

The boys have never all met, (aside from a quick handshake between Robert and Ben), but they have a dream that they might meet on the Ellen DeGeneres Show soon. In fact, someone even built them a facebook page to help try and make that happen. In a time when so many young people are reaching out for help, when their words are so frequently falling on deaf ears, I can’t think of something more inspiring than the work that is being done by these guys.

Great work! Hope to see you on Ellen soon!