TORONTO - The Canadian Olympic Committee has entered into a partnership with leading lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organizations as it aims to protect and support LGBTQ athletes, youth and coaches in sport and schools.
The initiatives, announced Tuesday at PrideHouse Toronto, also include updating anti-discrimination language within the COC Articles and introducing LGBTQ-specific educational resources for its national in-school program, which will be promoted by Canadian athletes.
A memorandum of understanding was also signed between the COC, the You Can Play project and Canadian charity Egale, organizations that promote LGBTQ equality in sport. It's part of a COC plan to foster a broader conversation around LGBTQ issues with athletes, coaches, corporate and media partners, and the broader sport community around the country.
"It's time to do something now," said Canadian women's hockey goalie Charline Labonte. "I think that's why it's good timing — we're ready, society is ready. It's just about raising awareness with the next generation so we don't have to hide who we are and you can feel safe in an environment, even in sports or at school.
"So it's just to help out people for a better life."
Labonte, who won a gold medal at the Sochi Olympics earlier this year, came out last June. She said she's proud that the COC is taking a proactive approach with Tuesday's announcement.
"It's not always easy to be the first one to voice something like that," Labonte said. "But I think it's the right thing to do and I know that some countries have already contacted us to say that they are really impressed and that they support it and they want to get involved as well.
"Canada is a very progressive country and once again we're showing it by being the first one to launch such a big and important program."
In addition, the COC plans to do the following:
— Create ground-breaking LGBTQ-focused resources to be used in its Canadian Olympic School Program (COSP) for educators and students from grades six to eight.
— Launch a new OneTeam athlete ambassador program, which will take Canadian athletes into schools across the country to promote mental fitness, self-esteem and equality in sport.
— Train the OneTeam athlete ambassadors so that they can use the newly-updated COSP resources at assemblies, question-and-answer sessions and during seminars, engaging LGBTQ and straight-allied athletes throughout the year.
— Continue staff training by Egale at the COC's corporate offices in Toronto and Montreal, with a focus on creating a more inclusive corporate culture.
— The COSP and its resources will set out to connect and engage one million students and establish formal relationships with 25 school boards nationally 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," said COC chief executive officer Chris Overholt. "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."
Several athletes were on hand for the formal announcement, along with other COC officials and representatives from Egale and You Can Play.
"Today is a positive step forward, and just a beginning," said COC president Marcel Aubut. "Over the next few months our work and engagement will only increase. Our hope is that this conversation leads to a safer, more diverse and inclusive sport system for our athletes, coaches, sport partners and our great country."