Vancouver councillor returns from gay rights mission in Sochi
The Vancouver city councillor sent to advocate gay rights at the 2014 Winter Olympics says his mission was a success, despite being snubbed by the mayor of Sochi.
Tim Stevenson, who returned home Sunday, was also unable to meet International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, but did get an audience with Bach’s chief of staff and communications director.
“We were up against huge odds trying to see committee members,” Stevenson told CTV News Monday. “But when we got there the second day, the president’s office called and said we want a meeting.”
Vancouver council voted unanimously to send Stevenson, an openly gay man, to the Olympics in light of oppressive anti-gay legislation introduced by Russia last summer. The councillor said his main purpose was to call for specific protection regarding sexual orientation in the IOC charter, an issue Stevenson said was well-received by Bach’s team.
“I made my presentation, they listened very intently, they took notes,” he said. “After we finished they said the new president was wanting to bring about changes, real changes to the IOC.”
Bach previously announced a comprehensive review of the IOC’s anti-discrimination policy that would seek input from all member nations.
Though the current charter states that “every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination,” it does not single out sexual orientation, which critics worry leaves room for interpretation.
The Paralympic Charter does specifically bar discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Stevenson also wanted to see the Olympics continue the inclusion of Pride Houses at the Games, a practice introduced in Vancouver in 2010 but left out of Sochi.
The city’s mayor, Anatoly Pakhomov, reportedly did not have time for a meeting with Stevenson, despite repeated attempts to schedule one.
Pakhomov came under fire just weeks before the Olympics began for his bizarre claim that not a single gay person lived in his city.
Stevenson said he visited Sochi’s last remaining gay club on his trip and discussed the hardships currently facing openly gay Russians.
“I talked to the owner and people inside, it’s a very difficult situation,” Stevenson said. “It’s a very repressive atmosphere. I’m told that Sochi used to have a number of gay clubs because it’s kind of the resort city on the Black Sea… but it’s gone down to one and they’re really struggling.”
Russian legislation implemented last year made it illegal to express pro-gay views, or even speak about homosexuality around children at the risk of fines or even jail time.