Halifax held its first all-queer hockey game last month, and the organizer says it’s just the start of creating safe and comfortable spaces for LGBTQ athletes.
“It was really amazing. It was just exhilarating to see everybody come together as well,” Jaylen McKellar said.
“You could just sense that everybody knew that the atmosphere was different. It was really magical in a sense.”
The game was held at Centennial Arena on Nov. 27. McKellar said 22 queer and transgender folks participated and about 50 people came out to cheer on the athletes.
“It was fantastic. I had people come out that haven’t played in a while and everybody seemed to have really enjoyed their time,” he told CBC Radio’s Information Morning Halifax last week.
McKellar, who is transgender, grew up playing ringette and hockey. After high school, he transitioned and took a five-year hiatus from sports.
He eventually returned to hockey and played in a men’s league, which was fine until his teammates found out he was trans.
“I didn’t feel safe. Comments were made and I stopped playing because of safety concerns,” he said.
McKellar said this is a common experience for many LGBTQ individuals who play sports, including Chuck Dauphinee.
Dauphinee played hockey at a young age, but he would often feel uncomfortable and unsafe in locker rooms as a gay man.
He said those feelings prevented him from playing hockey for years, but that eventually changed when he became a chiropractor who works with athletes later in life.
“I just really felt like I needed to go on the ice,” Dauphinee said. “I got really inspired by working with Hockey Nova Scotia and the Sidney Crosby Hockey School and just seeing how much fun it was. I felt like I was missing out.”
7:30Hear about Halifax’s first ever all queer hockey game
That’s why Dauphinee started his own recreational LGBTQ and ally-based league, the Halifax Mussels, in 2017.
Dauphinee said he wanted to create a place where queer athletes and allies could come together to play in a comfortable and safe environment.
“With hockey, it’s always been like a man’s sport or an aggressive sport,” Dauphinee said. “It’s just nice that we can be who we are.”
McKellar said that’s why he started playing with the Mussels. He said his time with the league was incredibly welcoming, but he also wanted to do more for just the queer community.
He said he was inspired to hold an all-queer game after participating in an all-gay tournament in Montreal and travelling with an entirely transgender team in the United States earlier this year.
That’s when he knew he wanted to bring those “remarkable experiences” to queer folks in Halifax.
“It was just so safe and so welcoming with people that have the same experiences as you, and you didn’t have to have that kind of fear in the back of your mind of, are you going to be safe the entire time?” he said.
Importance of queer representation in sports
Isaac Mulé, who grew up playing hockey, said he was delighted when he heard about Halifax’s first all-queer hockey game.
Mulé and his husband moved to Halifax from Ontario last year and have been trying to meet new LGBTQ people so the game was the perfect opportunity.
“It just makes it so much more important that we have our own spaces where people — trans, non-binary, queer people — can have that space to not only meet friends and connect as a community and but also just to play a sport that we all really love,” he said.
Mulé said hockey has not always been a welcoming space for minorities, including queer individuals.
“I think people like to think that sometimes hockey is — because it’s so Canadian — that it’s so safe and welcoming, but it’s really not,” he said.
He said the sport has a long way to go, especially since this was only Halifax’s first all-queer game.
“What a great opportunity to kind of be part of history,” Mulé said.
Growing the game, league
McKellar said after the success of this first game, he wants to create an all-queer league that would be a sister league to the Halifax Mussels. Dauphinee supports the idea.
“I definitely think Halifax has room for two leagues … [and] I do see the need for an all-queer group,” Dauphinee said.
McKellar said the all-queer games will continue every couple months, and he’s already planning the next game for February. He hopes it will encourage more LGBTQ individuals to play.
But first, he wants to generate some funding and gather feedback about the initial game to continue improving the event.
By late next year, McKellar hopes to have an all-queer Maritime league that will participate in tournaments in places like Montreal, Toronto and the U.S.
“There’s not a lot of queer spaces, especially in sports, so to get that is super important and then grow from there.”