PrideHouse Toronto welcomes gay athletes to Pan Am Games

A man walks by PrideHouse Toronto following their opening ceremony ahead of the Pan American Games in Toronto Wednesday, July 8, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch

TORONTO – Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod hasn’t slowed down since the Women’s World Cup.

A day after the international women’s championship, the Olympic medallist and Pan Am torchbearer married Ella Masar, her partner and Houston Dash teammate. Days later, she marked the opening of PrideHouse Toronto, meant as a safe space for lesbian, gay, transgender and queer people during the Games.

The PrideHouse pavilion, located in the city’s gay village, is the first of its kind at a Pan Am Games and the first to receive official support and collaboration from the organizing committee.

“As an out athlete, I think it’s very important for athletes who aren’t necessarily out or who are struggling to have a place where they feel safe and to perform at their best,” McLeod said Wednesday.

“I know for me, to be exactly who I am is when I’m at my best and playing my best, so I think it’s an important message for not just Toronto but Canada to send to the world.”

Story continues below advertisement

McLeod, who came out publicly after the Sochi Olympics, said she hopes Toronto’s efforts to be inclusive will set a precedent for international multi-sport competitions in the future.

Workers erect giant letters spelling out Toronto in Nathan Phillips Square as they prepare for the Pan Am Games, Wednesday, July 8, 2015. The 2015 Pan Am Games officially open in Toronto on July 10. AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell

“I was really affected by Sochi,” where Russian laws restricted gay-rights activities, she said.

Breaking news from Canada and around the world sent to your email, as it happens.

“I got married on Monday and my wife… I can’t imagine competing and not thanking her after a big event,” she said.

The International Olympic Committee has announced that future Olympic host cities will have to sign an anti-discrimination agreement.

The next host city, Rio de Janeiro, is sending a delegation to Toronto to pick up tips on setting up its own PrideHouse, organizers said.

While Brazil may not yet be as inclusive as Canada on LGBTQ issues, the fact that they’re interested in learning is a good sign, said Catherine Meade, a PrideHouse organizer.

Story continues below advertisement

“At least it’s one of those countries where it’s legal to be gay, lesbian or trans,” unlike 11 of the 41 countries participating in the Pan Am Games, she said.

“They probably won’t be able to replicate everything that we’ve done… but they’ll certainly hear about some of the steps that we took and they’ll be able to determine what, of those things that we’re doing, they’ll be able to do.”

PrideHouse will be hosting a number of events at the 519 Church Street Community Centre, including family activities such as pick-up sports games. It will have a presence at other Games sites such as Nathan Phillips Square and the CNE grounds.

Though McLeod won’t be in town to participate in the festivities, the self-described “Olympics-obsessed” athlete said she plans to watch the Pan Am Games from Houston and cheer for her World Cup teammates, many of whom are representing Canada in the international competition.

Sponsored content