If you have been following the AC Twitter account you might have seen one of the editors share and make a positive comment on this article from OutSports.
I encourage you to read it, but to save you some time, it’s a short piece on the latest news from the NHL that each team has appointed an LGBTQ inclusion ambassador and lists each player representative from every team. As well as pointing out the controversial choice of the Montreal Canadiens - Andrew Shaw; the guy who got suspended in the playoffs last year for using a gay slur.
I won’t comment on that only to give him the benefit of the doubt; players say stupid things in the heat of the moment. We all do. It doesn't make him an overall terrible person and, if anything, it forced the NHL to accept this brand new world and rightfully send a message by suspending him in the playoffs. I applauded them for that.
The Ducks used rainbow tape in their game against Florida this week - a further nod toward LGBTQ inclusion and acceptance. To most fans - this probably seemed kind of “aww thats cute, good on them” but to me this really meant a lot. To see my favorite team, one I have supported since its inception and for which I have always stood up for during those very down and depressing years, to see that they now had my back, that gesture was beyond symbolic to me.
You see, I am gay.
I won’t go into the sordid details, but I came out when I was 22. I came out to my sister first and she then helped and encouraged me to come out to my folks. That was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. But, as I should have known all along, it was not an issue. They are my family and they have and always will love me.
Hockey teams can be like families. Sometimes they don’t get along, sometimes they do. Sometimes somebody sleeps around with everyone's wives and has to eventually get traded.
Ok maybe they aren't entirely like families.
My point is, if someone on this Ducks team (or any other team in the NHL for that matter) were to come out to his teammates, I don't think it would be a big deal. The team is like family and they would have his back. The NHL has made that point much more abundantly clear by appointing these ambassadors. If you scroll down the list of names you notice a pattern - most of the guys are known as pretty no-nonsense. I know if I was coming out, and I knew I had Ryan Kesler ready to jump in if someone tried to mess with me, I wouldn't be afraid to come forward.
The weird thing is that this is all very hypocritical of me to say. Because on my old team (I no longer play ice hockey because I moved cities and there is no ice rink in my new town) I did not publicly come out to them. In fact, they were the only people in my life I never told in person. I think a lot of them knew because they were friends with me on Facebook, but it was never spoken about in the locker room. Why did I not tell them? I didn’t think I needed to. I didn't want to be singled out as different. I didn't want special attention or help. The common stereotype surrounding gay men is that they are weak. Falsehoods breed ignorance and ignorance feeds hate. In light of today’s recent world changes that is a very evident human trait.
Sure there were numerous occasions where I could have spoken up.
“Hey my buddy's kid is a figure skater and might be keen to play, reckon we could recruit him?”
“Sure why not, would be good to have one of ‘those’ types on the team”
I bit my tongue to keep from pointing out that they already had one and also silently fumed at the “figure skater = gay” stereotype.
“Hey do you have any kids? How long have you and the Mrs. been together?”
I always answered those questions with “my partner.” And as for the kid question, I’d either mention how many nieces and nephews I had, or dared to further explain that I am a sperm donor and have a son for whom I have no parental rights (which is an entirely different story).
Whenever I have told anyone that I am gay - its not in a, “OMG! Like I am so gay! That dress is soooooo hot on you babes” kind of way. It’s generally always to correct them when they assume I have a wife. I am always without fail greeted with shock and surprise.
“But you don't sound gay? You don’t you know, have your wrist like.. You don’t - no offense, you don’t dress gay.”
I have heard all of those and then some.
And that’s why stereotypes suck.
I play hockey. I like NOFX, Kendrick Lamar, Foo Fighters and sure, the occasional show tune (and yes I love Rent). I love beer. I don’t have 50 pairs of shoes (though my partner does). I don't watch E! or any of those stupid fashion/celebrity based channels or shows. I like Sci Fi and Action. If you look at my shirt designs I think you will get an idea of the kind of stuff I like.
I think my team eventually understood me; just like in the NHL, guys came and went, but the main core of the group remained intact for about 3-4 years. I was team manager before I left and I am pretty sure everyone on the team, bar maybe 2 or 3 slightly more dense guys, all knew that I was gay.
That’s how it should be.
If you want to help eradicate stereotypes and create supportive inclusion - support the You Can Play Project; set up by Patrick Burke in honor of his brother Brendan who tragically passed away in a car accident. Brendan bravely came out to his very hockey staunch family (I shouldn't need to explain who the Burkes are) and to this day I am thankful to him for being the trailblazer he was.