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08/29/2014 05:30 EDT | Updated 10/29/2014 05:59 EDT

Olympian wants to help tackle homophobia in sport ahead of pride parade

As Calgary's Pride Festival continues to build towards Sunday's parade, one local athlete is pushing to get homophobia out of the sporting world.

Olympic luger John Fennell will take part in a panel discussion on homophobia in sport in Calgary Friday night.

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Fennell is also taking part in an online forum about homophobia in sport on CBC Calgary's website at noon today. Take part in the conversation here.

Fennell announced he was gay shortly after competing at the Sochi Olympics this winter. He kept it a secret during the Games, and said it was suffocating.

"It was actually really terrifying to go through that," he said. "It was one of the most stressful things I've done."

He says in the run-up to the Olympics he became very anxious and that negatively impacted his performance.

"I was in a World Cup in Latvia and I was almost in hysterics and I said, 'How can I be brave enough to go down this mountain if I can't be brave enough to be who I am,'" he said.

Although it shook him to the core, Fennell says there was one positive thing. He says it made him address the issue, reach out for help and gather support.

"Whether I knew it or not, it was going to be the most healthiest choice I could make," he said.

He says competing in Russia was difficult due to the homophobic attitudes of many in that country, but the reaction to his announcement here at home has been great.

"I had almost entirely positive reactions from everyone," he said. "It was really healthy and helped me out a lot." 

Fennell says his sport is driven by being confident and brave, so he hopes to see that in his competition next year. He is also looking forward to taking part in his first Calgary Pride celebration and will be joined by his teammates.

Out on the field

Another gay athlete who recently came out is community baseball player Chandler Whitney. He is also taking part in the panel, cal​led Tackling Homophobia in Sports.

The discussion will examine the challenges connected to overcoming homophobia in sports, and the role human rights should play at major international sporting events.

Whitney can relate to the fear that coming out can cause an athlete. 

"I'm in Walla Walla, there's not a lot of open-mindedness on the surface," Whitney told outsports.com.

But when he came out to his Walla Walla Community College baseball team he found complete acceptance.

It's been a big year of firsts for gay athletes.

NBA player Jason Collins became the first publicly gay athlete to play in any of the four major North American pro sports leagues this winter. Michael Sam was also the first an openly gay football player to drafted in the NFL.

The announcements generated a variety of reactions, and some athletes didn't take it that well.

Calgary Stampeders receiver Maurice Price had to apologize for tweets he sent out after Sam was drafted by the St. Louis Rams.

The tweets were criticized by teammate Jon Cornish, the CFL’s most outstanding player in 2014, because his mom is married to a woman.

Those type of divides are exactly what Friday's panel is looking to address. Tickets are free for the event at the Hyatt Regency Hotel that starts at 7 p.m. MT.

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