Olympics 2024: The History of Pride House

Pairs Figure Skater Eric Radford was on hand at the opening of Pride House hosted by Canada House at the Gangneung Ice Arena at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in Gangneung in Pyeongchang in South Korea, February 20, 2018. Credit - Steve Russell/Toronto Star—Getty Images

Making waves at the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics is a “Pride House” on a boat on the Seine river, set to open on July 26 when the games begin. There, LGBTQ+ fans and Olympic athletes can eat, drink, and watch LGBTQ+ athletes compete in the Olympics.

Pride House also provides a safe space for athletes who may come 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 effort is the first time that the International Olympic Committee is backing a Pride House. So-called official “Pride Houses” can be 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 where there is a major global sporting event and helps them set up their own Pride Houses. Twenty-five Pride Houses in 16 countries have attracted more than 50,000 visitors.

The first Pride House at an Olympics took place at the Vancouver winter games in 2010. Organized by Dean Nelson, who specializes in LGBTQ+ tourism, its goal was to provide a welcoming place for gay and lesbian athletes, their coaches, and their friends and family. The venues hosted watch parties for the games and general health and wellness lectures.

As Nelson once explained 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 said that visiting Pride House in Vancouver “was a major influence on my public coming out.”

Pride Houses have also become spaces for education about LGBTQ+ issues. At the Pride House during the 2012 London Olympics, there was an art exhibition on lesbians and gays in sports and even a soccer tournament. After the 2021 Tokyo games—featuring the largest number of openly LGBTQ+ athletes ever to compete at an Olympics—the Pride House morphed into a community center called “Pride House Tokyo Legacy,” which is still in operation today.

In 2014, the International Olympic Committee amended its charter to clarify that discrimination in terms of sexual orientation is not allowed. Yet there are still obstacles to hosting a Pride House in Olympic host countries that have anti-LGBTQ+ laws. The most notable example was the 2014 Winter Olympic games in Sochi, Russia. While a Pride House couldn’t be set up at the official games, the Pride House International group worked with a gay and lesbian sports group on the ground to put together some counter-programming, and even organize some sports games. But police showed up and ordered them to stop playing and shut down many of the events, often under the claim that a bomb threat had been called in. There was a social media campaign in which same-sex couples worldwide were posting photos of themselves holding hands in order to show their support for LGBTQ+ Russians.

Pride House organizers hope athletes will perform better after going to the house. As Keph Senett, who serves on the board of Pride House International, 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 Pride Houses will inspire openness about queer identity in all arenas of life, not just in sport. “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.”

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