It’s hard to believe June is almost at an end. This month has just flown by. (Having reconstructive knee surgery in the middle of June probably didn’t help that feeling of time slipping away.) I’ve been mentally drafting and redrafting this article since last summer in anticipation of this year’s Pride Month. It started last year, when we here at Defending Big D changed our icon on all social media to a beautiful rainbow version of our logo. I remember being so excited to see that graphic every time I logged into our Twitter account.
I’ll never forget Taylor calling me and saying, “Don’t read the comments and messages on Facebook right now. Just — don’t.”
Turns out, not everyone had been a fan of our support for the LGBTQ+ community. Not everyone had approved of our public endorsement. Not everyone had approved of me.
That’s right. Your trusty deputy editor and social media manager is queer. Cue up George Michael’s “Freedom! ‘90” and let that sentence bounce around in your brain for a moment. I bleed pink, yellow, and blue (the colors of the pansexual flag). I cried the day it was announced that the Supreme Court had legalized gay marriage, meaning I could finally marry whom I loved, regardless of their gender identity. I’ve had hilariously disastrous first dates with women and too-good-to-be-true stories of going to the local gay bar back home and running the pool table for drinks for my girlfriends. Through being active in comics fandom and hockey, I’ve found my LGBTQ+ crew. Most of my friends are queer, love hockey, and just want to enjoy this ridiculous ice sport that we all love. Without any prejudice, or gatekeeping, or hate. And yet.
Hockey has a long way to go to be truly welcoming for me and mine. You Can Play and Hockey Is For Everyone has been successful thus far in bringing visibility to the fight for inclusion in hockey. Some teams have definitely figured out the right mixture of team involvement, financial support, fan engagement, and public statements. Some have failed in the most atrocious ways (Minnesota, I am looking at you) with using their Hockey Is For Everyone night for all kinds of charities and foundations except ones benefiting the queer community.
(Here’s a quick ally-ship tip for you: Use “LGBTQ+” or just “LGBTQ” when talking about my community. Historically, “queer” has been used as a slur against us and we’ve reclaimed it as our own, to be used within our community, not by people outside of it about us.)
When I’d begun drafting this article last year, it was my version of joining the crowd throwing bricks at Stonewall, resisting the heteronormative patriarchy that has relegated us into the shadows for far too many centuries. It was going to be my sharp-tongued push for change in hockey, from teams and fans alike. My thoughts have — mellowed somewhat since then. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a lot to be worked on, changed, or just outright scrapped when it comes to hockey and their support and involvement with the queer community. Most noticeably, how the teams react to homophobic comments on their inclusive social media posts. However, the past year has seen some great changes that have me feeling hopeful instead of dejected and angry for the first time in far too long.
One instance was the way in which the Colorado Avalanche reacted to fan outcry around their Hockey Is For Everyone night earlier this spring. The Avalanche posted a tweet asking allies to send in video messages of support for the queer community, but no such extension was offered to us actually in the queer community. The reaction was nearly instantaneous. Every queer hockey fan was outraged that we were going to be erased on our own night by messages of support from straight “allies” and all in the name of equality and inclusion. After the vocal pushback by fans, the Avalanche asked for queer fans to send in messages instead. By all accounts from friends of mine at that game, it was a great theme night with lots of attention and energy directed toward the queer community. The Avalanche had the grace and courage to do what many wouldn’t have been capable of — listening to the queer community and reworking their theme night to truly be focused on them instead of allies supporting them.
Being a true ally doesn’t mean just vocalizing your support. It means being part of an active dialogue, and just like an actual discussion between two people, that requires you to be flexible. It requires you to acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers and sometimes the way you try to express support isn’t the best way. But that’s okay; it isn’t the end of the world — as long as you’re willing to change and learn. Be willing to listen to your queer peers when they share the best ways to support us, especially when those ways are different from what you think to be the best (or only way). Having the courage to change how you interact with us, and respecting our opinions and input, is the sign of a true ally. Because after all, you showing support isn’t just about you; it’s about drawing attention and resources to those who need it most. So ensuring that your allied voice doesn’t drown out the rainbow ones leading the charge, that’s the most critical part of being an ally. And the Avalanche knocked that one out of the park. They acknowledged their show of ally-ship wasn’t the best approach, listened to the queer fans reaching out to them, and changed their engagement because of that. A rainbow star goes to Colorado for that bit of hope in an otherwise upside-down, topsy-turvy 2020.
Another moment in hockey this year that helped me shift away from breathing angry fire was my local WHL team’s Hockey Is For Everyone night. The WHL has no mandate that teams have to put on that theme night within the season. My local team took the approach of, “Well, they didn’t say we couldn’t do it, right? Let’s do it.” They offered gorgeous Pride shirts with the purchase of all adult tickets. (I bought so many of those shirts for friends around the country and in the UK who wanted them but obviously couldn’t get to the game.) A portion of the sales from the shirts bought at the merchandise shop (and the tickets themselves) went to local LGBTQ+ organizations.
The team clearly called it “Pride Night” on social media and throughout the game itself. And the players themselves were clearly excited for it as well. In the NHL, queer fans have had to settle with a third or less of players utilizing rainbow tape for warmups. My local WHL team actual ran out of Pride Tape that night because nearly every player taped their sticks.
I arrived early enough to watch warmups and teared up to see so many of those young men proudly flashing their rainbow-decorated sticks. Some had taped the knobs, some had covered the blade, and some had done the candy cane of wrapping the rainbow colors up the shaft of the stick, the colors brilliant and practically glowing against the stark white of the ice. I took so many pictures during warmups, feeling as if my heart was going to burst from joy and pride. It was more than I could have ever hoped for and just that physical show of support meant the world to me. The next generation of hockey players coming into the NHL are full of hope and courage to enact change, and if that night was any indication, the future is so, so bright for the National Hockey League and its fans, queer and straight alike.
When I’d mentally planned out this article even two months ago, I knew that when I reached my thoughts on the Dallas Stars and their involvement with the LGBTQ+ community, my language would be calculated and harsh, laying out their failings and pushing for change. That’s not the case anymore.
In case you missed it, Taylor wrote an incredible article a few days ago examining the Stars’ involvement with the queer community. While proofreading it, I was genuinely shocked to read just how involved the Stars are with the local queer community. Suddenly, all that anger and frustration that I’d planned on fueling my article evaporated. In its place, I felt this warm, gooey puddle of emotions — pride, joy, relief, elation that me and mine were seen and respected by my team in victory green.
Wound through those emotions, however, was the sense of urgent insistence. Yes, the Stars are heavily involved with local queer organizations, but how many of us gathered under the rainbow flag actually know about their work? How many of us can list the foundations they support, the work off the ice by the front office, the team and their significant others?
Being more than a little plugged into (okay, a lot plugged into) all things Stars, I was floored. And I want more. No, that doesn’t make me greedy. It makes me human. The Stars are doing some incredible things in the local Dallas-Fort Worth area, but they’re not talking about it. That’s the key. They need to talk about it. To do so might feel like bragging or seeking applause for their allied efforts, but I can guarantee you, it’s not. Knowing that my team supports my community and works with us throughout the year well before and after Hockey Is For Everyone and Pride, that’s a good feeling.
However, I shouldn’t have to go digging to know all of that. The rest of my queer found family shouldn’t have to search deep on the team website to know if this is a team that truly is a safe environment for us, if the Stars are a group of people that respect and love us. The simplest tweet about their involvement would suffice. That would publicly ensure the queer community knows that the Dallas Stars are a team to love and support on and off the ice, and they return that tenfold to those of us who need it most.
It’s not enough to just be an ally, you have to be a vocal ally. Prejudice, hate, and violence flourish in the silence. The only way to combat that is to drown out the silence and dissenting voices. The Stars’ motto for fans is to “Be Loud. Wear Green. Go Stars.” Be loud. It’s that simple. Everyone, not just the Stars’ Public Relations and Marketing departments, can take their cues from that statement. Talk about your support for me and mine. Share the ways you’re helping us, whether it’s through petitions to sign, foundations to donate time and money to, or calling your local Congressional representatives to urge them to vote “yea” on bills that protect us and give us the equality we have fought so long and hard for.
We are a minority. Most U.S. adults estimate that one in four Americans are a part of the queer community. That’s so far off the mark that it’s almost laughable. The reality is that less than five percent of the population identify as LGBTQ+. The reason most adults estimate a higher percentage is due to the massive increase in visible presence of the community, conversation around us, and changes in laws and workplace environments to accommodate us. Granted, that percentage of self-identified queer adults may be slightly larger once you factor in those who are not out. However, that is still a staggeringly small number.
The issues we face are varied and can be hard for straight allies to grasp. Straight allies will never understand the searing pain of your family calling you the six-letter f-word slur and then proceeding to make homophobic jokes and comments in your presence. Straight allies will never understand the grief that comes with realizing that the lives of brilliant, compassionate, world-changing individuals (such as Alan Turing) were cut short out of fear and hate simply due to whom they loved. Imagine just how different our world might look if Turing hadn’t been punished, chemically castrated, and committed suicide because, in the 1940s in England, it was an actual crime to be gay. Straight allies will never understand the physical shock of being disowned by your family, or thrown out to fend for yourself far earlier than your straight friends leaving the nest after high school or university. And straight allies will never understand how innocuous words like “pansy” can cause a sharp, surprised inhale and flash of aching pain beneath your sternum. Let’s not talk about how it feels having to explain over and over to straight people (usually men) the historical connotations of the term “f————t” and why it ties into the reason so many of us stay in the closet or literally fear for our lives simply by being unapologetically gay.
That’s why vocal, unashamed, in-your-face support by major organizations such as the Stars is so crucial. It’s a sad truth, but American culture doesn’t shift until the protests, the riots, the marches, the petitions gain the backing of large corporations and high-profile names. The Stars donating time, money, and resources to the queer community is the perfect start. It needs to be followed by talking about that involvement — and then pushing back when bigoted replies appear in the comments sections on their posts. I don’t know about you, but I am so bone-deep exhausted having to calmly and clearly explain why I deserve the same rights as a straight, white male and explain it to that demographic again and again and again.
Having loud voices join the discussion makes a world of a difference. Just look at how the Twitter account for the Carolina Hurricanes handles homophobic comments on their Hockey Is For Everyone posts. When someone says they’re not going to support the team anymore due to the LGBTQ+ support, the Hurricanes reply with variations on, “We didn’t want your support anyway, bye!” And responding to uneducated homophobic comments with facts and logic can help ease people away from their misguided education on the queer community. Unfortunately, I’ve learned over the years that the people posting those type of comments will refuse to listen to someone within the queer community, but they will listen to someone like them (translation: heterosexual).
The Stars aren’t perfect. Then again, none of us are perfect. To be human means to be continually learning and evolving, changing how we interact with people around us so that all are equal and respected — and safe. However, the Stars are doing incredible things for my community and I could not be more proud to be a Stars fan. Being an ally isn’t a stationary position; it’s one that is always moving forward, pushing past boundaries and edging toward change for the good. The Stars can continue down that path by talking more openly on social media and in NHL.com articles about the work they’re doing, about the strides they’ve made in their front office for inclusion. After all, how long does it take any of us to compose a tweet? They could even take that extra step of inviting queer fans share their stories of discovering hockey and why they love the Stars on the Dallas social media accounts or in articles.
So, to bring this home, let’s do a quick game recap. The Stars are investing in some amazing local queer organizations and have changed the language in their HR handbook so that LGBTQ+ employees are welcomed, treated as equal, and protected from discrimination. So what’s next? Broadcasting at full-blast what they’re doing to help my community. By using modern-day technology and platforms to open the doors to all, doing away with the invisible barricades between “them” and “us” that will truly make hockey a sport for everyone.
Yes, speaking up can be terrifying. You think Marsha P. Johnson didn’t feel a small thrill of terror mixed with hope when she picked up that very first brick and chucked it at Stonewall?
happy pride month y’all !! dont forget that marsha p. johnson, a black trans woman, threw the first brick at stonewall and spent most of her life advocating for lgbt rights. the community would not be here without her so as you’re celebrating this month, remember her !! pic.twitter.com/WA2ek2APLT— ines (@ung0dIyhour) June 1, 2020
She did it anyway though, and helped trigger a widespread change to the social landscape of the twentieth and twenty-first century for the better. We’ve seen it more than ever this year on Twitter, that using social media can pull people together in ways never thought possible to organize and mobilize for social change. All it takes is one tweet, one tap on the publish button, one share on Facebook, one Instagram live video to start that shift. This Pride, I’m not heartbroken or seeing red at the lack of support from the Stars and other teams around the league. This year, I’ve seen just enough to give me hope that the NHL is changing for the better, even if that change is coming slowly. Then again, any change feels incremental and insignificant in the face of centuries of stagnant hate and fear.
I’m a queer woman. I’m a queer woman who loves hockey. I’m a queer woman who loves hockey and is finally beginning to see some of that love reflected back at me through the Stars and other teams stepping up their game. The next step is open dialogue and vocal pressure. So come on, Dallas Stars and all you fans in victory green, let’s lead the way into the future where everyone can play in the National Hockey League, regardless of what they look like, where they come from, and whom they love. Let’s show everyone what it means to be loud and wear green. Let’s keep pushing for change even after Pride Month is long in the rearview.
Looking for ways to help the LGBTQ+ community? Here are some great places to start — and don’t forget to share these resources on your social media for others to find as well.
The Trevor Project: National leading organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ+ under the age of 25.
Black Trans Advocacy Coalition: BTAC is the only nationwide social justice organization led by black trans people that addresses the staggering inequities faced by our black trans members of the LGBTQ+ community. They work to address the large inequality gaps around housing, healthcare, employment, education, and safety for black trans community members.
GLAAD: As a media force and resource, GLAAD helps media to shape the narrative and kickstart dialogue about LGBTQ+ acceptance.