The History of Pride Houses at the Olympics

Pairs Figure Skater and Gold and Bronze medalist Eric Radford was on hand at the opening of Pride House hosted by Canada House

A “Pride House” on a boat on the Seine river is making waves at the Paris Olympics, set to open on July 26th when the games begin. There, fans and Olympic athletes can gather, eat, drink, and watch LGBTQ+ athletes compete.

Pride House also offers a safe haven for athletes from countries with anti-gay laws. “Nobody has to hide who they are,” says Jérémy Goupille, co-president of Fier Play, one of the Paris Pride House organizers.

The Paris initiative marks the first time the International Olympic Committee is officially supporting a Pride House. These “official” spaces are only found at large-scale global sporting events. They are modeled after the hospitality houses that countries host at the Olympic games. Pride House International partners with organizations at major global sporting events and helps them establish their own Pride Houses. Twenty-five Pride Houses in 16 countries have welcomed over 50,000 visitors.

The first Pride House at an Olympics appeared at the Vancouver winter games in 2010. Organized by Dean Nelson, a tourism specialist, its aim was to create a welcoming environment for gay and lesbian athletes, their coaches, friends, and families. The venues hosted watch parties for the games and general health and wellness lectures.

As Nelson once wrote in a 2020 CBC op-ed, the goal of that first Pride House was to “create a safe space in host cities where there is little tolerance or acceptance for being LGBTQ.” Olympic speed skater Blake Skjellerup once shared that visiting Pride House in Vancouver “was a major influence on my public coming out.”

Pride Houses have also become platforms for education about LGBTQ+ issues. At the Pride House during the 2012 London Olympics, there was an art exhibition showcasing lesbians and gays in sports and even a soccer tournament. Following the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, the Pride House transformed into a community center called “Pride House Legacy,” which continues to operate today.

In 2014, the International Olympic Committee amended its charter to clarify that discrimination based on sexual orientation is prohibited. However, obstacles remain in hosting a Pride House in Olympic host countries with restrictive laws. The most notable example was the 2014 Winter Olympic games in Sochi, Russia. While a Pride House couldn’t be established at the official games, the Pride House International group collaborated with a local gay and lesbian sports group to organize alternative events and even sports games. But police intervened, halting their activities and shutting down many events, often citing bomb threats. A social media campaign emerged, where same-sex couples worldwide shared photos of themselves holding hands to express their support for LGBTQ+ Russians.

Pride House organizers hope athletes will perform better after visiting the house. As Keph Senett, a member of the Pride House International board, says, “You want to see the best athletes? Let them be themselves. Make it safe for them to be themselves. Accept them.”

He hopes that will inspire openness about queer identity in all aspects of life, not just in sports. “Queer folks exist everywhere, including in sports, and our stories deserve to be shared openly,” Sennett says. “When people are allowed to be themselves safely, when they’re welcomed, when they’re accepted, they perform better. It doesn’t matter if it’s sports or business.”