When the NHL announced that it would be focusing on the stories of allies during Pride Month, a group of players, coaches and fans vowed to shine a spotlight on those in the sport who are, like them, LGBTQ+ and visible – and through the power of social media, a powerful project began to take shape…
Jay Forster is a hockey goaltender, writer and podcaster (Locked On CBJ) who was the first person to be featured in the Hockey Pride project. In this blog, he describes how the initiative came about and the community spirit it is already fostering…
Let’s play a game.
We’re a tight-knit community, where everyone knows everyone.
We fight for each other day in and day out.
If you belong, you belong. We’re the best kind of family – the kind you choose.
Am I talking about hockey, or the queer community?
I never thought these two aspects of my life would intersect. I am queer. I am a hockey player, or a hockey reporter, or a hockey fan, or… etc, etc, etc. I always assumed that I’d have my hockey family and I’d have my queer family, and never the two shall meet.
Then in January 2020, Zach Sullivan of the Manchester Storm came out publicly, and I saw my chance. I grabbed it with both hands. I ended up writing a piece for Sky Sports, and 18 months later, here I am, fresh off of a whirlwind Pride Month working with Brock McGillis on Hockey Pride, a series of interviews celebrating queer hockey players, fans, reporters, officials, agents… I could go on and on.
The point is, I spent most of June talking to or listening to queer hockey people, from professional all the way down to recreational, including people who have never even stepped on the ice. It was gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming people of all walks of life. As well as myself (Blue Jackets fan since 2014, top left in image above), our roster so far…
- Alexis Malone (she/her): Blues fan from St Louis
- Steve Finkel (he/him): Div 3 college hockey player, referee, coach; came out at college
- Shant Kachadorian (he/him): Sharks fan, living in Vegas
- Anne Wickland (she/her): Sharks fan, trainee pastor
- Jey Wong (they/them): Center/goalie, Sharks fan
- Michaela Grey (she/her): Golden Knights fan. Romance novelist currently nominated for the Vivian Awards with her book ‘Roughing’
There’s something about a community coming together that sits heavily on my chest. Brock conducted over 120 interviews over the month of June, and it was a celebration of joy, of queerness, of family. It was my two great loves coming together in a concrete and tangible way. In a way that I can look at and say, “We were here. We made a difference. We aren’t going anywhere.”
Brock ends every interview by telling the person that they matter. That they’re living their truth. That they’re shifting culture. This small moment lasts a matter of seconds, but it’s been my favourite part of every interview I’ve seen so far. Brock thanks them, and each person, just for a second, has the exact same expression. It’s a small smile, pleased, proud, a little embarrassed, but in the best kind of way.
Brock has a way of speaking like you’re the most important person in the room, like he’s never met anyone as important as you before. Even on Zoom, it’s hard to maintain eye contact. You can see each person drop their gaze, but their shoulders straighten a little. They sit taller. The words Brock says make a difference to them.
I interviewed Brock in February 2021, as part of a series for Sports Media LGBT+. I closed the interview by asking what he would say to young hockey players that are questioning their sexuality. His answer brought me to tears.
“In interviews, I say this all the time – I love being a gay man. And that’s not something that a lot of queer kids have heard, sometimes, but I wouldn’t trade this life to be a straight man. When you love who you are, you won’t care what anyone else thinks, and that’s the most powerful feeling in the world.”
Hockey Pride began as a middle finger to the NHL, the league that decided to celebrate allies during Pride Month. It was a passion project, something small, something that maybe 20 people would want to be involved in.
We finished with over 100 interviews, and close to 150 people emailing in. We have a team of close to 20 volunteers editing and subtitling video. When a community comes together, it’s magic. It’s beautiful. It’s that perfect cross-ice pass to your linemate. It’s the group hug after a goal. It’s the line of teammates waiting to bonk their goalie on the head after a win.
And it’s a parade. It’s bottomless mimosas at brunch. It’s sharing makeup tips at the mirror. It’s standing shoulder to shoulder and demanding that our voices get heard.
A hockey team is a family in the same way that a Drag House is a family. Eyeblack for outdoor games. Winged eyeliner for the Gods.
Queer people sometimes look at sport as something so alien it might as well exist on another planet. But we’re not so different. There’s a Venn diagram of queer people and of hockey people, and I think the circle in the middle is a lot bigger than people realise.
Follow the Hockey Pride project via @brock_mcgillis and the hashtag #HockeyPride on Twitter
Sports Media LGBT+ is a network, advocacy, and consultancy group that is helping to build a community of LGBT+ people and allies in sport. We’re also a digital publisher. Learn more about us here.
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