The sports world has not always been the most friendly place for the LGBT community but, gradually, that’s changing.
Ice hockey has increasingly become a inclusive and supportive environment, for fans and players alike, even if there are currently no out players in the NHL.
“Our motto is ‘hockey is for everyone,’ said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman last year. “The official policy of the NHL is one of inclusion on the ice, in our locker rooms and in the stands.”
Below, check out 11 times ice hockey embraced the LGBT community.
When Andrew Ference marched in a Pride parade
The Oilers’ star called participating in Edmonton’s annual gay Pride parade “a no brainer,” saying that “whether it’s a teammate who might be thinking about coming out, or whatever—we want to make sure that it’s an accepting environment for everyone.”
When Philadelphia Flyers scout Patrick Burke founded You Can Play
You Can Play, which promotes equality in sports, was founded by Philadelphia Flyers scout Patrick Burke in 2012, three years after the tragic death of his brother, Brendan Burke, who made headlines when he came out as gay. Their father, NHL General Manager Brian Burke, sits on the organization’s board, along with several pro players.
In 2013, the NHL and National Hockey League Players Association formalized their partnership with You Can Play, committing to education and training for teams, players, media and fans, plus the production and broadcast of more PSAs.
“As NHL players, we all strive to contribute towards helping our teams achieve success on the ice. Any player who can help in those efforts should be welcomed as a teammate,” said Winnipeg Jets defenseman Ron Hainsey. “This partnership solidifies the message that the hockey community believes in fairness and equality for everyone.”
When Caitlin Cahow attended the Sochi Olympics as part of the official U.S. delegation
Along with openly gay tennis legend Billie Jean King, out hockey player Caitlin Cahow attended the Sochi Olympic Games as a member of the official United States delegation, chosen by President Obama himself to send a message to Russia about inclusion. (Cahow previously played for Team USA herself, medaling twice.)
“The Games bring out our humanity and our ability to love one another, to value dignity and respect,” Cahow wrote in an exclusive story for NewNowNext.
When a woman proposed to her girlfriend at a Toronto Maple Leafs game
Back in 2012, a Toronto Maple Leafs fan named Alicia was escorted onto the ice wearing a blindfold. When the blindfold was removed, she looked up at the video scoreboard and read a message from her girlfriend, an Ottawa Senators fan named Christina.
The pair embraced before Christina got down on one knee and slid the engagement ring onto Alicia’s hand. After the couple shared a kiss, the Senators mascot raised a sign that declared: “SHE SAID YES.”
When the Edmonton Oilers became the first NHL team to use “Pride tape”
Designed by Kris Wells at the University of Alabama, the rainbow-colored tape was meant to serve as “a badge of support from the hockey world to young LGBT players” when wrapped around the end of a stick.
The Oilers embraced that message in January, when they became the first pro team to use the tape, at the annual Skills Competition at Rexall Place.
When the Chicago Gay Hockey Association covered Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You”
In 2013, The Chicago Gay Hockey Association thrust the Christmas spirit onto all of us with a too-adorable-for-words cover of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You.”
The CGHA, now in its 13th year, provides a non-discriminatory environment in which any lover of hockey–novice, pro, male, female, straight, gay–can play the sport they love.
When the Florida Panthers hosted the NHL’s first Pride night
The Florida Panthers became the National Hockey League’s first franchise to sponsor an LGBT night with their “You Can Play Equality Night”.
“I’m a huge believer in diversity in this world,” said Panthers coach Kevin Dineen. “We are a family that has strong faith and beliefs but we’re very understanding of every situation and that’s our world now… Our world has changed.”
When the Kiruna IF hockey team became the first LGBT-certified sports club in Sweden
In June of last year, Kiruna IF become the nation’s first LGBT-certified sports team, announcing they’d be switching their uniforms to rainbow colored match jerseys in a showing of support.
“By setting a good example, Kiruna IF want to prevent bullying and exclusion and create the best opportunities for all young people to play and love hockey,” the club announced in a press release.
When the owner of the Montreal Canadiens said he’d welcome a gay player
The same day Jason Collins retired from the NBA last November, Montreal Canadiens CEO and co-owner Geoff Molson made it clear his team would welcome an openly gay player. “I can only speak for the Montreal Canadiens on a question like that, and there is an extremely open environment,” said Molson. “Not only with our team, but also with our fans. Everyone and everybody is welcome in the Montreal Canadiens organization.”
When Sean Avery became an LGBT ally and advocate
The former New York Ranger says his work with the LGBT community stems from his time on the ice:”I was such a bully when I had my uniform on, that when I took it off I felt the need to stand up against the bully.”
Avery publicly backed marriage equality when it was being debated in the New York legislature, is a board member of Athlete Ally and has called on the NHL to address anti-gay language used by players—something he witnessed first hand.
“My belief is the responsibility lies with the leagues, the way they discipline players, the position they take and use it in every-day incidents,” he said. “One guy’ll get slapped with a fine, the next day nothing will happen. There needs to be consistency.”
When the Stanley Cup came out at Chicago Pride
Chicago Blackhawks president John McDonough made a special arrangement for the 35-pound Stanley Cup to be flown back from Los Angeles, site of the NHL Draft, so it could appear in Chicago’s Pride parade. “It’s important for the city and important for the franchise,” McDonough told the Sun-Times.