LGBT rights eyed in context of The Games

Adela Talbot // Western News

Health Sciences professor Laura Misener, left, Health Sciences PhD student Kyle Rich, middle, and Education PhD student Alicia Lapointe have been researching the initiatives of Pride House – a temporary venue modeled after traditional Olympic hospitality housing – that hosts LGBT athletes, volunteers, visitors, fans and allies who attend events like the Olympics, Paralympics or other major sporting events.

When nations gather – particularly at events like the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro – the world is watching. This global stage is just one reason large sporting events present a good opportunity to educate and raise awareness of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ) rights, according to Western researchers.

“With everything being mediatized, with globalization, we are seeing things happening all over. Sexual orientation and gender identity is a big topic right now; we are talking about it in a lot of different contexts, but especially in sport. Having this conversation while The Games are in Rio makes it pretty timely,” said Kyle Rich, a PhD student in Health Sciences.

Against the Olympic backdrop, Rich, Alicia Lapointe, a PhD student in Education, and Laura Misener, a Health Sciences professor and Rich’s thesis supervisor, have been working on a research paper that examines the potential of large-scale sporting events to promote LGBTQ rights.

Their research has revolved around the inclusionary initiatives of Pride House – a temporary venue modeled after traditional Olympic hospitality housing – that hosts LGBT athletes, volunteers, visitors, fans and allies who attend events like the Olympics, Paralympics or other major sporting events. The first Pride House was organized for the Vancouver 2010 Games, with the most recent being set up for the Pan American Games in Toronto last year.

“When a country, region or town hosts an event, it creates an opportunity to drive change, an opportunity to address a social issue that maybe you wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to address. Using that idea, we’re looking at Pride House and the strategies they used to try and produce social change in the community in the context of The Games,” said Rich, who worked as a Pride House inclusion ambassador when it was in Toronto.

Lapointe, Rich and Misener have identified three pillars that can help raise LGBTQ awareness at international sporting events: creating safe spaces – where LGBTQ athletes and fans are free to be themselves without consequence; creating positive moments – where LGBTQ athletes are respected, accepted and celebrated; and identifying queer moments – where sexual and gender ‘norms’ can be questioned and disrupted. They credit Tara Goldstein at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education for the idea of the “three pillars.”

Lapointe and Rich met in Western’s Teaching Support Centre, where they both work.

Lapointe’s doctoral work in Education focuses on equity issues in secondary schools and looks at gay/straight alliances which act as a social support group for LGBT students in high school. When she and Rich met, they realized they could marry Lapointe’s theoretical approach to LGBTQ rights with his research in sporting event venues in an effort to determine what can be done to raise awareness of the LGBT community both in sport and society, while also looking to motivate positive social change down the road.

“This notion of the festivalization of spaces – where people are celebrating and coming together – creates a real opportunity to be able to talk about these (LGBTQ) issues,” Misener said. “It’s great that we’re able to reach out and have some interfaculty work – the students working together – this is excellent.”