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Canadian Olympic Committee unveils LGBT initiatives, partnership with You Can Play

Canadian Olympians will visit schools across the country to talk about LGBT issues with one million youth in the next year.

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The Canadian Olympic Committee today unveils a new initiative aimed at combating anti-LGBT bias in sport. The program is the deepest, most comprehensive project of its kind developed by a national Olympic Committee.

"To build champions, an organization needs to be able to develop athletes who love and accept themselves fully," Canadian Olympic Committee senior writer Paulo Senra told Outsports. Senra has been an integral figure in developing the plan for the COC. "Today's announcement is a good step forward in defending the idea that every athlete - no matter who they love - deserves a right to compete for Team Canada."

The program is multi-dimensional, hitting various levels of social change, including visibility, education and policy creation. Its genesis was in part a response to the Sochi Olympics and the angst about anti-LGBT Russian laws it created.

A centerpiece of the initiative includes a partnership with the You Can Play project, in addition to national LGBT-rights group Egale Canada. The two organizations will train Olympians - both LGBT and non-LGBT - to talk with youth about LGBT issues. The COC's goal is to reach one million students and 25 different school boards across Canada before 2016.

"While Canada is a worldwide leader on LGBT inclusion, LGBTQ youth still face hardship, harassment, and discrimination," said You Can Play co-founder Patrick Burke, who is on-hand at the announcement. "And in the immediate aftermath of Sochi, many elite level athletes and staff were unsure exactly where the COC stood in terms of backing their LGBT athletes. This eliminates any doubt they might have had."

Athletes taking part in the #OneTeam initiative include speed skater Anastasia Bucsis, who came out last year in response to Russian anti-LGBT laws, and her girlfriend, hockey goalie Charline Labonte; Rosie Cossar, the gymnast who talked yesterday for the first time to the media about being gay; luger John Fennell; swimming champion Mark Tewksbury; and kayaker Connor Taras. Two dozen athletes have already volunteered to be part of the initiative. Outsports is running a series of articles this week about LGBT Canadian Olympians in conjunction with the new project.

In addition to using the program to generate strong conversation about the issues across the country and the sports world, the COC will also have its entire staff trained on LGBT issues. They are also building LGBT-inclusive language into COC policies.

Other key benchmarks and initiatives will be rolled out over the next year.

"This is the single most aggressive and single most exciting partnership and initiative that we have established in our existence," Burke said. "We have never before had an established partnership in which elite athletes regularly and effectively fight homophobia on a national scale. Canada is setting an example that all other Olympic committees should be following."

Your move, IOC.

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