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Vancouver councillor cleared for trip to Sochi to fight for gay rights

Tim Stevenson will lobby for the IOC to include mandatory Pride Houses and non-discrimination clauses at future Olympics Games.

DARRYL DYCK

Vancouver Councillor Tim Stevenson has obtained a visa to travel to Russia, clearing the way for his high-profile visit to the Sochi Olympics.

Mr. Stevenson, who is gay, is traveling to Russia to represent Vancouver, which hosted the Olympic and Paralympic games in 2010, and to press International Olympic Committee officials to support gay and lesbian athletes in the face of legal crackdowns in Russia.

"Sports is one of the last bastions of homophobia and many LGBTQ [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual, questioning] athletes are very fearful and receive discrimination on a regular basis," Mr. Stevenson said on Wednesday.

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In his capacity as deputy mayor, he will be lobbying for several changes, including that the International Olympic Committee make Pride Houses a requirement for bids from would-be host cities. Pride Houses – gathering places for LGBTQ athletes, coaches and officials – were first launched in 2010 in Vancouver and Whistler.

The venues proved popular and the concept took off. There was a Pride House at the London Olympics in 2012, and Pride Houses are planned for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, the 2015 Pan-Am Games in Toronto, and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.

Russian Olympic organizers, however, rejected a request for a Pride House at the 2014 Sochi Winter and Paralympic Games.

Mr. Stevenson also plans to speak to IOC officials about updating Olympic charters to explicity include a non-discrimination clause in regard to LGBTQ people and sexual and gender identity. Such language is already included in the Paralympic charter, he said. "We are saying, 'Look, this is really no big deal, the Paralympics have already got it,'" Mr. Stevenson said.

Mr. Stevenson's visit, scheduled from Feb. 1 to 9, comes amid widespread concerns over Russia's treatment of gays and lesbians. Last year, President Vladimir Putin signed "anti-propaganda" legislation that bans "propaganda promoting non-traditional sexual relations" to minors. Russian court decisions have also raised concerns that couples from countries that approve same-sex marriages may not be able to adopt Russian children.

Mr. Stevenson received his visa on Dec. 28, just 10 days after council unanimously passed a motion that he go to Sochi. Initially, plans called for developer Peter Wall and marketer Bob Rennie, who have worked together on real estate projects in the city, to pay for Mr. Stevenson's trip. But those plans came under scrutiny as a potential conflict of interest for Mr. Stevenson.

In December, council approved plans to provide a "modest," as yet undisclosed, amount for Mr. Stevenson's trip and to set up a trust account to allow donors to contribute funds to offset the costs for two people who will accompany him.

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