Gay bar sponsoring Canadian speed skater Denny Morrison hopes there is no backlash

Denny Morrison (Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
Denny Morrison (Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

The owner of a Calgary gay bar that is sponsoring Canadian speed skater Denny Morrison welcomes the attention his effort has been receiving. But he also remains wary of it.

“I don’t want any backlash to happen to Denny,” said RayJean Fafard, the owner of Twisted Element. “I have to be careful.”

By his own estimation, Fafard has given about $150,000 in 10 years to various charities and fundraising efforts. Few have raised his profile as much as his decision to sponsor Morrison, a three-time Olympian who is in Sochi, Russia for the Winter Games. Much of that focus comes because the issue of gay rights has dominated the news during the build-up to the Olympics, Russian legislators proposing a ban on the “promotion” of homosexuality to anyone under 18. Large protests have followed.

“My No. 1 concern is nothing does happen to Denny,” said Fafard, who has already been interviewed by two newspapers and a television station about the sponsorship. He said when the anti-gay protests began to gain some critical mass he approached Morrison.

“I went to Denny and said, ‘Do you want me to pull back?’ He said, ‘No, no, I’m a big boy. I can handle it.”

Fafard insisted he would feel guilty if something did happen and said Morrison told him, “I relieve you of your guilt.”

Twisted Element, like many gay bars in North America, contributed to the protests by dumping out all their Russian vodka. Fafard says it will not be sold in his establishment again.

Fafard met Morrison two years ago when a group of speed skaters came into Twisted Element. About six months after that, Morrison approached Fafard about some financial help and they struck a deal, one that Fafard says either party can break at any time. He would not reveal how much money is involved but says it goes to funding the “day-to-day” aspects of life.

“I’m going to do this because I want to, not because I’m getting something out of it,” Fafard said.

Since their agreement began, Twisted Element has become a stop for speed skaters on the World Cup circuit. Fafard estimates skaters from as many as 50 countries have been into Twisted Element.

Fafard does concede, though, the sponsorship may bring some big-picture resolution with it.

“The exposure tells people you can come into gay bars and know we’re just like anyone else. It’s like being an ambassador. Hopefully, in the long run, discrimination will be a thing of the past.”

He also asked one thing of Morrison, who won gold in the team pursuit at the Vancouver-Whistler Games in 2010 and has two World Cup golds in the 1,500 metres.

“I said, ‘Can I see your medals and actually hold one?’ It is such an amazing feeling, seeing that medal up close. I didn’t realize how heavy they are. And they’re beautiful.”

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