Canadian Olympic Committee’s new goal: eradicating homophobia in schools

ctv news

The Canadian Olympic Committee is partnering with two organizations to encourage inclusion in sports in advance of the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto.

The COC is working with You Can Play and Egale Canada, two organizations that promote acceptance and tolerance, to fight homophobia across the country.

As part of the partnership, You Can Play and Egale will provide support for Olympic athletes who want to reveal their sexuality.

Athletes will also visit schools to talk to students about issues faced by members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) community.

« Starting today, the greatest athletes in Canada embrace a new mission: the eradication of homophobia in Canadian schools, » You Can Play founder Patrick Burke said at a news conference Tuesday.

Burke later said that, eventually, the initiative will reach millions of Canadian schoolchildren.

« When you see this happening at the national level, the COC is stepping up and saying that not only do we welcome LGBTQ athletes in our own house, but we’re going to go out into the community and try and make an impact, go into schools and talk about LGBTQ issues. I think we’re going to see a real impact on Canada’s youth, » he told CTV News Channel.

The program will include updating the COC’s internal policies and programs to be the most advanced for LGBTQ inclusion in the world, he said.

And it will also train elite athletes to deliver the message of acceptance to schoolchildren across the country, be it gay athletes or athletes who support the program’s message.

Two-time Canadian Olympian Anastasia Bucsis called the program « ground-breaking. »

When Bucsis came out to friends and family in 2012, « I really struggled with it, » she told News Channel.

« I felt a great deal of loneliness, confusion, anxiety, » she said.

« And to be sitting here a little over two years later, and being a part of such a momentous movement, I’m very proud. I think we’re going to see great strides, and this is going to have a huge effect on future generations. »

The Canadian Olympic School Program (COSP) aims to establish relationships with 25 school boards across the country by the end of 2016.

« Athletes should be judged by their performance on the field of play and their character as people, not for who they love, » COC chief executive officer Chris Overholt said Tuesday. « Today’s announcement is a positive step forward and we are so proud to begin the important work in changing the locker-room culture across Canada. »

Bucsis called organized sports « a final frontier of homophobia » that fosters a silence « that just furthers the stigma and stereotypes. »

Burke noted that athletes fear coming out to their teammates because they will be targeted in the locker room.

« It’s a total waste of energy for these athletes, » Burke said. « They have to lie to their teammates, lie to themselves, spend all this time hiding who they are and feeling that external and internal pressure. It distracts them from being an elite athlete. »

Many athletes see their on-field performances improve once they are able to reveal their sexual identity to their teammates, he said.

Emphasizing acceptance and diversity in the locker room will help, Bucsis said. She already knows what her message will be when she visits schoolchildren.

« Be authentic, » she said. « To be proud of who you are on and off the field. »