Friday, November 29, 2013
Toronto group wants gay-lesbian sports facility
The 519 Church Street Community Centre is proposing a $100-million sports and recreation centre at the Wheel and Foundry complex site at Eastern Ave. and St. Lawrence St. in the West Don Lands development area.
While LGBTQ-focused, the facility would be open to everyone in the neighbourhood, as its population is set to boom, said Maura Lawless, executive director of the 519, which draws its core funding from the city and fundraisers to cover costs of its programs and services.
“We do know that realistically, across the city of Toronto not every recreation facility and sports centre is accessible and welcoming to the LGBTQ community. There’s no question about that,” said Lawless.
The philanthropist offering up a third of the budget doesn’t want to be named yet, said Lawless.
“The donor was very interested in this particular project because for them, they understood how profound the opportunity to participate in sports and recreation in a welcoming space for LGBTQ people transformed their particular life,” she said.
Under the proposal, which will go to the city’s community development and recreation committee next week, the 519 would raise another third of the costs and request government — municipal, provincial and/or federal — kick in the remainder. Once opened, the city would provide core funding and the 519 would raise money for programs and services.
The 32-hectare former industrial area of West Don Lands is undergoing a major construction effort to build the athletes’ village for the 2015 Pan American and Parapan American Games. The proposed building is currently a vacant heritage site owned by the province.
At the end of the Games, the neighbourhood will have 6,000 new housing units with an estimated 11,000 residents.
“This development is driving a need for greater recreation and community space,” according to a city staff report that states that homophobia and transphobia in sports is well-documented.
Shawn Sheridan, chair of OutSport Toronto, knows the experience all too well.
Growing up in Stouffville, about 50 kilometres northeast of Toronto, Sheridan said bullying, teasing and threats started early.
“I may have wanted to play soccer or rugby but it was those same guys who were saying they wanted to beat the crap out of me after school that were on those teams,” said Sheridan.
“I was limited growing up, in terms of where I felt comfortable and safe. So as a kid, I was a loner and I did very little in terms of team sports. My biggest physical activity was riding my bike around town.”
Society has come a long way in accepting diverse sexual orientation but still has a long way to go, said Sheridan.
“There is still an unhealthy machismo in a lot of particularly the male sports that are out there.”
If the proposal passes committee and council, the city would begin negotiations with the province to acquire the site and begin planning the work. It’s believed this would be the first LGBTQ-focused sports centre in Canada.
Construction would begin at the end of 2015 and take about two years to complete.
In a statement, the councillor whose ward the facility would be located in said she was “incredibly excited.”
“The capital funding arrangement is remarkable, with the city providing new, innovative community recreation space at a fraction of the cost,” said Councillor Pam McConnell.
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