Vancouver Councillor Tim Stevenson left for Sochi with something he says he could not leave behind: a weathered Bible inscribed by his grandmother more than 50 years ago. The gay activist, ordained minister and politician will represent Vancouver as the Winter Games begin in Russia. He plans to meet with representatives of the International Olympic Committee, the Russian Orthodox Church and the international media, to speak out against Russia’s anti-gay laws. He spoke with The Globe before he left on Tuesday.
Do you feel ready for the level of attention?
Yes. I’ve been involved with gay liberation since 1979 when I first became president of Gay UBC. I started at a local level at the University of British Columbia. Then I was the first openly gay person who was ordained in the United States and Canada. Then I was the first openly gay MLA and I was the first openly gay cabinet minister in the country. I’ve learned all the way along. I remember at Gay UBC the first time I talked with the student press, I was nervous as hell. So over the years I’ve slowly gained experience and comfort. And I’ve always had the same sense of passion and rightness about the cause, but I’ve just become more confident. I think now, this is the next step. Then I’ve done a little bit of work internationally in South Africa back in the day when Nelson Mandela got out of jail. I worked with gay groups there – that was in 1991. But this will be the first on this kind of level. People ask: ‘Are you nervous?’ But what’s the use of that? It just gets you all tied up in knots.
What’s your plan once you get to Russia?
We’re not there for the Olympics. In fact, the Olympic Games open on the 7th and we come back on the 9th. I want the IOC to have a constitutional change in their charter so that sexual orientation is included in their charter. The Paralympics already have sexual orientation in their charter. So it’s not much of a jump to say, ‘Look, have a look at the Paralympics.’ And obviously Paralympians have been discriminated against in their lives and suffered, so they kind of get it. The IOC so far doesn’t get it.
What is your response to the mayor of Sochi’s comments Monday about there being no gay people in Sochi?
I hope to meet him and then I’ll be the very first gay person he’s ever met in his life, I gather.
Do you plan to meet with LGBT activists?
I would like to meet with them and I have been in contact with the president of the GLBTQ Russian federation of sports. And I’ve met him – one of the gay sports organizations brought him out in November to Toronto and I went out to Toronto to meet him there. Since then I’ve been in correspondence. He is to come to Sochi and it looks like he’ll be coming just in the two or three days before I leave.
How are you going to ensure safety both for yourself and
I am very aware that there could be danger for those in Russia. So I’ll take my cue from them. I don’t want to put them in any danger. As far as my own, I think I just have to keep my wits about me. I’ve been through lots of situations in my life before, so…
What do you hope will come from your visit?
I think that this has already been a very successful mission. The amount of press that it has generated, and the number of people who have come to me and said, ‘Wow, this is really wonderful.’ I think it’s already been a success. And everything else is kind of gravy.