Concordia Stingers set to show their colours at hockey Pride Games
As a gay man who enjoys sports, Concordian Nicolas Bergeron says he understands what it can feel like to be unwelcome in certain environments. So through his work at Queer Concordia, the John Molson School of Business student has created a Pride Game for the Stingers hockey teams.
The Pride Games, which are modelled on similar National Hockey League (NHL) events, are organized in collaboration with Concordia’s Recreation and Athletics and Concordia Swarm. The events take place on February 3 and 4 at 3 p.m., an hour before the men’s and women’s hockey teams each face off against the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees at the Ed Meagher Arena on Loyola Campus.
Activities include a chance to register for a free raffle featuring such items as pride caps autographed by Montreal Canadiens stars Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki.
Representation on ice
Bergeron has also prepared a written collection that will be on view at the event. The collection highlights pride initiatives and 2SLGBTQIA+ representation, including letters from former professional hockey player Brock McGillis and NHL trainer Justin Rogers that they wrote to their younger selves.
The collection includes photos of pride tape in action. The rainbow-coloured athletic tape was designed to show support for 2SLGBTQIA+ athletes. However, last year the NHL became embroiled in controversy when it banned the use of such symbols.
As such, Bergeron says that hosting a Pride Game at Concordia will be more significant than ever. “I was quite upset when the NHL announced the now-reversed ban of specialty jerseys and special tape, citing that it was a ‘distraction’ when certain players refused to wear or use it,” he says.
“In my eyes, on-ice representation makes a world of a difference. It holds a lot of meaning for the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, especially for youth wishing to pursue their beloved sport,” Bergeron adds.
“Organizing a Pride Game helps us send a message that everyone is welcome to enjoy the game.”
Persistent discrimination affects participation
For Bergeron, league bans on special jerseys or tape are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to hateful attitudes towards the 2SLGBTQIA+ community in sports and beyond.
“Although society has made tremendous progress, it is common for 2SLGBTQIA+ youth to feel out of place, misunderstood and sometimes even judged in certain contexts,” he says.
“In the world of sport, offensive ‘jokes’ or derogatory insults to the opposing team, for example, are unfortunately still present in 2024. Although these terms might not be used with a true intent to harm, it is important to understand that it affects the ability for everyone to feel welcome and respected.”
Positive safe spaces are a priority for Stingers’ head coaches
For Julie Chu, head coach of the women’s hockey program, and her wife Caroline Ouellette, associate head coach, fostering a safe space on Stingers teams for students from all walks of life is a main priority.
According to Chu, the couple has always felt welcome to be out and proud in the Concordia community. She says she wants to provide the same positivity to the students on their teams.
“Whether in regard to sexuality, ethnicity, nationality or language, we want to create an environment that’s welcoming and inclusive,” says Chu.
“That’s something we strive for. I think we’re really, really lucky that our team does a great job with that. They really embrace our differences as a part of who we are.”
Chu adds that, throughout her hockey career, 2SLGBTQIA+ representation has been an important factor in her personal journey. She says she hopes the upcoming Pride Games will have a similar impact on some of the Stingers.
“When I came into the world of women’s hockey, especially as I started to get older and tried to figure out who I was and if I was gay, I was in an environment where it was really open,” Chu says.
“There were people that I knew who were gay. No one treated them poorly, no one treated them differently — they just treated them like teammates. It helped me be more comfortable to eventually share who I was with everyone fully,” she notes.
“I think that something like a Pride Game, where there’s going to be people sharing fully who they are, could give someone a little bit more hope and a little more belief that they’re not alone.”
Advancing equality and inclusion in hockey and beyond
These issues are all too familiar to Chu. In addition to her coaching duties, Chu is a part of the NHL Player Inclusion Coalition. The group is composed of current and former NHL and women’s professional hockey players working to advance equality and inclusion in the sport.
“There were a handful of players who didn’t want to wear the jersey for their reasons. It definitely blew up. Unfortunately, the focus became about those players,” says Chu.
“One of the things that got lost is that a lot of the different organizations did run Pride Games last year. A lot of incredible things still happened that kind of got overshadowed.”
Chu acknowledges that hate towards the 2SLGBTQIA+ community is still present in hockey and beyond, but says she wants to ensure the emphasis remains on the progress being made.
“When I was growing up, being gay just wasn’t something that was very talked about. Now, I feel like there’s more openness and acceptance of it,’” says Chu.
“There’s more conversation about it and there are more younger people saying, ‘Okay, so, they’re gay — no big deal.’”
‘No place for hate’
Bergeron shares that it means a lot to him to see the event finally come to fruition as he begins his final semester of his degree. He conceptualized the idea for a Concordia Pride Game over a year ago to serve as a reminder that there is no place for hate in hockey.
He says he believes that having student athletes participate in pride-related initiatives will demonstrate support and help build safe spaces for 2SLGBTQIA+ players and community members.
For coach Julie Chu, the events are also an opportunity for players to use their voices. “After the games, it’ll be really important for some of our players to maybe get asked about LGBT rights for the first time,” she says.
“I think we’re in a world where sometimes we’re afraid to say the wrong things or be misinterpreted, so not everyone has publicly spoken about support even though they fully live supportive lives. This is our opportunity to get our players engaged in these conversations a little bit more and figure out what they truly believe and why.”
“I believe it is very important that everyone feels included in our sport. Gender identities or sexual orientations should not be something keeping people from enjoying the sport that we all love,” he says.
“I think it is important to see that, even at the highest levels, players and organizations are inclusive and accepting of everyone. Everyone should feel like they can be part of the game, whether by playing or being a fan.”
Those interested in attending the Pride Game events must purchase tickets and can follow along with updates on Queer Concordia’s Instagram page. Copies of Bergeron’s collection will also be made available in the Queer Concordia office in the week following the event for anyone who cannot attend.
“How do we create a space where, when someone comes and meets our team for the first time, they can feel like they’re welcome, whether it’s for an hour or for a year?” says Chu.
“My hope is that if even one person can come to this event and say, ‘I needed this to feel okay,’ then I think that that’s really special.”
The Pride Game events both begin one hour before gametime at the Ed Meagher Arena on Loyola Campus. The men’s team plays Ottawa on Saturday, February 3, at 7 p.m., and women’s team takes on Ottawa on Sunday, February 4, at 3 p.m.