Friday, 3 August 2012

London's Countdown

London 2012 bid logo
London won their bid to host the 2012 Olympics on 5th July 2005. Almost immediately plans were laid to make these games as diverse and gay-friendly as possible. The London committee were the first in Olympic history to include a commitment to diversity in its bid.

One of the first decisions made by the London Organising Committee (LOCOG) was to form a Diversity and Inclusion Group, appointing an openly gay man, Stephen Frost, as its head. Former basketball player John Amaechi and Co-president of the Federation of Gay Games, Emy Ritt, are members of LOCOG.

Perhaps the biggest expression of outreach to the lgbt community came in July 2010 when they produced special pin badges showing the Rainbow Pride flag flying proudly behind the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic logos. More recently a new badge was designed showing a rainbow heart behind the logos.

When it came to recruiting volunteers for the games LOCOG appealed to all diverse groups and communities to become involved. Self-appointed spokesman for the lgbt community, Peter Tatchell, took it upon himself to actively push LOCOG into ensuring a high visibility of the lgbt community at the opening and closing ceremonies. Was he thinking of a recreation of the Sydney Olympics closing ceremony with Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and 50 drag queens? Perhaps he wanted all lgbt volunteers and participants should wear the special pin badge. Who knows?

All of the 70,000 or so volunteers, working in all areas of the games, were given a test before to gauge their sensitivity to diversity issues. In the UK this sort of thing is commonplace because of our anti-discrimination laws. Questions included one on how the volunteer would deal with people complaining about 2 men holding hands, or how to direct someone to the toilet when they’re not sure what gender they are. The test has been thought patronising by some, but I know from experience that there are people out there (management included) who wouldn’t have a clue what to do in either situation.

For the big showcase events of the games, the opening and closing ceremonies, LOCOG chose lgbt director Stephen Daldry to be Creative Director in overall charge of the whole of the ceremonies. Straight film director Danny Boyle was chosen as Artistic Director in charge of the cultural elements.

But the Olympics is about sport (you’d never have guessed from Danny Boyle’s muddled ceremony). What about lgbt athletes? LOCOG has done the unique thing of including lgbt visitor information in their “Athletes Guide” handed out to all competitors. There have been appeals by some MPs for visiting lgbt athletes to come out at the games, or even seek asylum here if returning home would mean they would be persecuted, tortured or even executed because of their sexuality.

Something which we may see at every future Olympics is an official Olympic Pride House. In recent years lgbt organisations and volunteers have set up special venues for lgbt athletes, allies and families to meet and socialise. These have been very well received and high-profile. It is often forgotten that the first attempt at such a thing was in Barcelona in 1992.

Almost as soon as London won their bid plans were made to open a Pride House, quickly followed by similar plans for the next winter games in Sochi, Russia, in 2014. However, it came as no surprise to hear that a court in Russia banned the Sochi Pride House because of the alleged effects it would have on local children. The London Pride House fell victim to current financial circumstances with difficulties finding enough sponsorship and funding.
Pride House logo
 And then, with only 16 days to go, the London Pride House was saved. Organisations including the Federation of Gay Games and the European Gay and Lesbian Sports Federation joined Pride Sports UK in rescuing the Pride House. It has also received official support from LOCOG. The House opened last Friday and closes on Tuesday. A special festival to go with it is being held in various other venues around London.

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