Off to Sochi


Cartoon by Grahame Arnould. It first appeared in The Georgia Straight.


On February 1, my spouse, Tim Stevenson, will arrive in Sochi.

It began last June, when the Russian government under President Vladimir Putin (with the encouragement and approval, it seems, of the Russian Orthodox Church), passed anti-gay/lesbian legislation, prohibiting “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations,” with a very broad definition of what that means, and the threat of prison to back it up. Anti-gay actions are on a sharp increase in Russia – beatings, job losses, gas and gun attacks at gay clubs; there is even a proposed bill to remove children from gay parents.

For many people these homophobic actions raise serious questions about the 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi. What about LGBT athletes, their friends and families? It’s already difficult enough to be “out” and accepted in the athletic world; now there are larger questions about safety. And what about the contradiction of celebrating the Olympics in a country that is restricting human rights?

There was some talk of boycotting these Olympics, but that would unfairly penalize the athletes, dashing hopes and dreams. Some people suggested that Russian vodka should be boycotted, which might not have been a bad thing for everyone.

But then, Vancouver City Councillor Tim Stevenson came up with another possibility – of his going to the 2014 Winter Olympics as Vancouver’s representative (he would be Deputy Mayor for the month of February) to express the city’s concerns. And City Council unanimously agreed.

So, Tim is going to Sochi to raise questions, to engage in dialogue; simply to be present as the out gay Vancouver Deputy Mayor. On the other hand, he also goes to the games with some specific constructive proposals, not just to raise his voice in protest. He will be asking the International Olympic Committee to change their constitution to specifically include sexual orientation in their charter. Ironically, the Paralympic Games have already done so – perhaps they understand the ugly power of discrimination.

Further, Tim will be asking the IOC to require that any future host city have a “Pride House;” that is, a safe space where LGBT athletes, and their families and supporters, know they will be respected, affirmed, where they can be themselves, without fear. Having a Pride House was an innovation at the Vancouver games, and it was so successful that London followed suit for the 2012 Summer Games; and Rio is intending to do the same at the 2016 Summer Games. When Tim and I were in Korea for the World Council of Churches, Tim went to Seoul and met with government and Korean Olympic Committee officials, to ask if they would consider having a Pride House when they host the 2018 Winter Games. In fact, he will be asking the IOC to institute a policy of not awarding future games to any city that is unwilling to ensure that there is a Pride House for the Olympics.

I am glad that Tim is going to Sochi; it’s the right thing to do. I’m worried, not only about the Russian authorities, but also the threat of terrorism. However, I also know how important it is to keep pressing for human rights, in this case for LGBT people, but for all people, everywhere.

And, I know that Tim goes not only as a Vancouver city councillor, but also as an ordained minister of The United Church of Canada. Our church has been on the forefront of speaking up for LGBT people – in our own denomination, in the wider Christian community, and in Canada. We also have a responsibility to speak to the wider world community, where LGBT people are far too often persecuted, attacked, imprisoned, and murdered.

So Tim’s journey is important. Standing up for human rights is important. He won’t be staying much beyond the opening ceremonies – his work will be done. All being well, he will be back in Vancouver by February 9.

I ask you to hold Tim in your prayers.

30 thoughts on “Off to Sochi

  1. We will hold Tim in our prayers asking for safety and wisdom for him.
    Pam Byers
    Chair Faith and Worship Committee
    Emmanuel United Church Hamilton Ontario

  2. My first response was “hurray” good for you Tim. My second response is travel well, keep safe and know that many prayers will be with you as you continue to work for justice issues for all peoples wherever they may be.

  3. Go, Tim! You will make us all proud in Sochi. Gay, elected and a Christian minister. It is possible, Mr. Putin and Patriarch Kirill I. And not only possible: more faithful to the gospel than discriminating against sisters and brothers for any reason.
    We will be waiting to see what transformation you might help to happen, Tim, in the IOC and in Russian attitudes. Blessings on your trip.
    Thank you, Moderator, for keeping us up to date on this story and all the other news of the church.

  4. Thank you Tim for being today’s prophetic voice of inclusion. You are held in my prayers and I will be asking for prayers of the VST community today at our community worship.

  5. Yes, I certainly will be holding in prayers Tim and you and all the gay athletes who are heading out to Sochi. May the event be a pleasant and safe learning experience for all who are involved.

    To Tim, I say thank you for being the face of the UCC at the games. I have every confidence that you will “do us proud.”

  6. Thank you for standing up for all who are discriminated against. Hope you feel safe supported. I will be keeping you in my thoughts and prayers. I support equality for all and thanks for striving to make this happen!

  7. Tim goes on an important mission with our love. Gary stays on his important mission with our love. Thank you both.

  8. Congratulations to Tim and you, Gary. You both have the ability and courage to organize this activity and carry it out with the maximum benefit for the album LGBT worldwide community. Best wishes for a successful visit. We will be following the news of Tim’s activities. I hope the weather is better then your visit to the SASKATOON Pride Parade last year. The leadership of both of you on LGBT issues is unique among Christian churches, inspiring, and heartwarming. Thank you.

  9. I agree that Tim’s journey is important, and I pray for his safe return. Of course, I don’t understand all the variables, but I wonder about the powerful statement that would have been made if the leader of our church was standing alongside his partner in love and solidarity in Sochi. As a statement of faith – like candles protesting the darkness. May I respectfully ask, why you decided not to go to Sochi as well?

  10. Goodwill and prayers from Vancouverites and Christians to Tim on his mission to Sochi.

  11. Pingback: Moderator’s Husband, Tim Stephenson Going to Olympics | Saskatchewan Conference Intercultural Ministries Network

  12. Blessings enfold you and hold you both, Tim and Gary.
    May G*d’s grace enfold you,
    May Christ’s love befriend you,
    May Spirit’s peace fill you,
    O the Holy three to enfold you and hold you and bring you safely home.

  13. Prayers for a safe trip to Tim
    What a wonderful representative we are sending
    G home safe and sound

  14. Thanks for sharing the story Gary! We chatted about this in your office way back in December and I was so pleased that you shared Tim’s trip with our whole United Church. You both have my prayers and solidarity thoughts along with all the others who will stand with Tim and question oppression in Sochi and beyond. Blessings on your journies

  15. Thank you Tim for your courage and compassion. May ears and hearts be open to hear your message. Blessings

  16. Dear Tim and Gary you are in our prayers. We surround you with light and love. You bring our questions and our hope to Sochi. Thank you.

  17. Gary, I add my prayers for Tim’s safe trip and successful outcome. However, in his discussions with the IOC, please ask that they add gender identity as well as sexual orientation to their charter. The T* stands with pride alongside our LG and B brothers and sisters. It was so uplifting to meet you both last summer in North Bay!

  18. Thanks to everyone for your prayers and support.
    I wanted to respond to Jason’s question about why I’m not going. A good question, and one that Tim and I thought about for quite a while — it’s a question we have frequently wrestled with over the years — when do we do something together, and when it is more appropriate to work separately? (That often includes a lot of joking :) ) So a number of considerations — I had already made several commitments — a major Youth Events, 2 Conference visits, a meeting of the Comprehensive Review Task Group, and then a one-time opportunity to visit Keewatin Presbytery of the All Native Circle Conference. There was also the quesiton of the expense to the church (the Russians are making Sochi a very expensive proposition). But ultimately we decided that Tim was going in a very “official” political role, as Deputy Mayor, and as the first openly-gay person to be ordained into ministry in the United Church, and that was sufficient. There was the question of visas… up until the visa was in hand, we weren’t at all sure that Tim would be issued a visa, and trying to get a visa for me as well might have added further complications. On the other hand, you’re right, Jason, it would indeed have been a strong statement about relationship, marriage and love. There’s no “right” answer.
    Again, thank you for all the support!

  19. Blessings on Tim… what a thoughtful and constructive approach to working for positive change .. he certainly has my support and best wishes..

  20. On reading the new post on Jan 23rd by Moderator Gary Paterson today,I have printed it for our Bulletin Board at the New Vision Community Church in my hometown. I have been moved to pray for the safety of, and successful efforts of Tim Stevenson, spouse of the Moderator. This is a rarity for me to so respond to anything on the internet. And I add my thanks to Right Rev. Gary for his supportive role in this initiative. Ant-gay activity should be met with such positive solutions as being offered in this case. Let us all applaud our United Church ministry for such efforts.
    Charles B

  21. Our prayers will be with Tim. I just heard him on As It Happens this evening on the CBC before he was to fly to Russia. Great to hear him!

  22. All our blessing to you Tim while you’re over at Sochi. May your presence shine a bright light not only on the Winter Olympic Games but on the whole country for the next fortnight and after the competitors and reporters have returned home and the Olympic flame has been dimmed.

    S & R

  23. We at Ralph Connor Memorial United Church in Canmore, Alberta will hold a prayer vigil on February 10 in care and support of LGBT athletes and all athletes that all may be free from discrimination as they participate in these Olympic Games. At this time we will hold Tim in our prayers as he gives witness to this issue.

  24. Pingback: A LIttle Promotion is not a bad thing – Moderator Gary Paterson | Steinbach United Church

  25. This must have been terrifying for you as well Gary. Isn’t it comforting to know that God “has our backs”. You are both such positive role models in our daily life when we are called to “do the right thing” and not be “scaredy squirrels”. I hope to hear that his trip home was safe.

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