Hockey team scores a victory for LGBTQ athletes
For a lot of people, hockey is such a huge part of Canadian identity but it also isn’t necessarily the most welcoming of all sports, on the ice or in the locker room. This was an opportunity for us to bring together a community.
UAlberta intramural squad among Alberta’s first hockey teams for LGBTQ players and allies.
By BRYAN ALARY
There’s a great deal of pride whenever Parker Leflar skates toward centre ice at Clare Drake Arena, and it has nothing to do with the final score.
Leflar is among two dozen University of Alberta students, staff and alumni who play intramural hockey for the The Landing, the non-profit service and safe space for gender and sexual diversity on campus. The team is among the first in Alberta devoted to LGBTQ inclusivity.
“We have players who have never played hockey before. We have players who skated for the very first time in September, before the season started,” said Leflar, a player, coach and one of the team’s co-organizers. “Watching their growth has been incredible because everyone is being so kind and supportive.”
Although there have been recreational hockey teams devoted to LGBTQ inclusion in cities like Vancouver and Toronto, none existed in Alberta before this season. Organizations like Team Edmonton had tried, but cost was always a barrier. Hockey’s reputation as a hyper-macho team sport prone to homophobia didn’t help, as many LGBTQ players often end up quitting the sport.
“For a lot of people, hockey is such a huge part of Canadian identity but it also isn’t necessarily the most welcoming of all sports, on the ice or in the locker room. This was an opportunity for us to bring together a community,” said Colleen Pirie, The Landing’s special projects manager and an expert in gender-based violence in sport.
Lifelong fans of sport, Pirie and Leflar first talked about forming a hockey team for LGBTQ players and allies not long after The Landing opened in 2014. Since then, efforts like the You Can Play Project and Pride Tape have captured mainstream attention, putting hockey—and homophobia—under the microscope.
“We always chatted about how it would be really, really cool for The Landing to put together an inclusive team for LGBTQ folks and allies. We really wanted to have that safe and inclusive environment,” Pirie said.
The Landing was able to break through that barrier with funding from Alberta’s Family Community Safety and Gender Based Violence Prevention programs. Pride Tape, an initiative of the U of A’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services (iSMSS), also sponsored the team by providing 18 rolls of rainbow hockey tape that's billed as a “badge of support” for LGBTQ athletes.
It wasn’t hard to find players, Pirie said, with 27 people of varying degrees of hockey experience signing up. When the Landing team made their on-ice debut Oct. 24, they made hockey history in Alberta. The final score didn’t matter because the game was a resounding victory for LGBTQ players and allies.
Leflar loved playing hockey growing up but stopped as a teen over concern about transphobia and homophobia. Forming an inclusive team has allowed a return to a sport Leflar loves, in a space that’s safe for people of all backgrounds and abilities.
“It’s been such an amazing atmosphere. Everyone is so supportive and positive and having a blast. That’s the best part of it, how much fun everyone is having.”
This season also saw the debut of the Calgary Pioneers, a recreational hockey team devoted to LGBTQ inclusion, and huge public support for the family of a transgender girl sanctioned by the Melville Millionaires, a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League club, because a player felt uncomfortable billeting in the same house as the girl.
Kristopher Wells, faculty director at iSMSS and Pride Tape co-founder, said these instances and others show the push for more inclusion among hockey’s grassroots is steadily building momentum.
“Everyone should feel comfortable to participate in sport in a safe and supportive environment,” Wells said. “What’s positive is we’re moving beyond a sole focus on LGBTQ individuals playing on LGBTQ teams to teams really working on showing that they are inclusive.”