Hospitality houses have become an integral part of international sporting events in the past two decades. TCEN members discuss why Australia's first Pride House at the Commonwealth Games 2018 is significant.
LGBT+ people have traditionally been pushed to the margins of sport. Even in countries that appear more accepting, negative stereotypes and the threat of intrusion or exposure can make sport seem unwelcoming and even hostile.
Large international sporting events present the opportunity to connect with people from different cultures and backgrounds. In 2010, during the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in Vancouver, the Pride House movement was formed to ensure that LGBT+ people and culture are not excluded from this dialogue.
Modelled after a traditional hospitality house, Pride House venues welcome LGBT+ athletes, fans and their allies during sporting events. They are safe spaces to view competitions, experience the event with others and build a relationship with mainstream sport.
Following a successful Pride House at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014, Pride House International has arrived in Australia for first time at the Commonwealth Games 2018 in the Golden Coast.
LGBT+ rights in the Commonwealth are immensely varied. While nations like Canada were among the first to introduce same-sex marriage, 37 out of 72 countries that criminalise homosexuality are Commonwealth states. 16 Commonwealth nations also criminalise female homosexuality, with 90% of Commonwealth citizens living in states that criminalise consensual same-sex activity.
But things are slowly improving. Since the last Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, the number of Commonwealth countries that criminalise homosexuality has fallen from 42 to 37, with Belize and the Seychelles among the most recent nations to decriminalise.
In 2017, The Commonwealth Equality Network (TCEN) became the first and only LGBT+ organisation to receive Commonwealth accreditation, putting the human rights of LGBT+ people on the international agenda. TCEN is currently comprised of 46 member organisations, representing 44 countries from all five Commonwealth regions.
Yet in some Commonwealth nations, such as Nigeria, Uganda and Brunei, life has arguably become more challenging for LGBT+ people.
In order to change the Commonwealth, LGBT+ people must be active in all Commonwealth spaces, including sporting events. Visibility and education will be key to engaging people on their knowledge of the Commonwealth and how it treats LGBT+ people.
There are eleven openly LGBT+ athletes at this year's games, the highest number ever, including Canadian pole vaulter Shawn Barber, South African runner Caster Semenya, Kiwi cyclist Linda Villumsen and English Diver Tom Daley.
Matt Hall, Project Director of Pride House Gold Coast, says:
"Pride House is important as it highlights LGBT+ human rights within the Commonwealth. It will draw attention to LGBT+ issues through hosting Exhibitions and Events that raise awareness and education."
Scott Cuthbertson of The Equality Network, Scotland's national LGBT+ equality and human rights charity, is representing TCEN at the Commonwealth Games 2018. Scott has been involved in bringing a groundbreaking human rights exhibition from Glasgow, where it appeared in 2014, to Australia. The exhibition highlights the latest developments in each Commonwealth country in terms of LGBT+ rights, such as new laws, legal challenges and breakthroughs. The exhibition will also be the venue for the Commonwealth Human Rights Reception.
Scott believes that having a safe space for LGBT+ people at the games is extremely important:
"To have a Pride House, a place where LGBT+ people can go and watch the games, is really important. It is not just about the message it sends out about LGBT+ people in sport, but also because it can explore human rights issues. Considering the record of the Commonwealth on LGBT+ issues, it is vital to have an LGBT-friendly space at the Commonwealth Games."
"To create change, we have to try to engage people across society. Sport is something that brings people together. Even if you’re not LGBT+, sport can break down barriers and it can change attitudes."
After a divisive same-sex marriage campaign, which ultimately resulted in the legalisation of same-sex marriage, Pride House is also important in an Australian context.
Jaz Dawson, Director of Kaleidoscope Australia, an Australian NGO advancing LGBTI human rights in the Asia-Pacific, explains:
"Given that Australia is in the minority in the Commonwealth, having decriminalised same-sex acts only 21 years ago, it is heartening to see Pride House launched for the Commonwealth Games. The Games are an important event for the Australian government to demonstrate what an inclusive and diverse Commonwealth can look like."
"At the same time, I hope that Pride House is an opportunity for athletes and fans to discuss how to improve Australia's treatment of LGBTI people, including our indigenous peoples and refugees, particularly in offshore detention."
After the games, TCEN activists will join world leaders from across the Commonwealth at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). This year’s event will be the largest gathering of international LGBT+ activists yet, with the most ambitious plan for global change.
Learn more about Pride House.
Learn more about The Equality Network
Learn more about Kaleidoscope Australia