Hockey For Everyone?

A thought provoking and educational article from Luke @LGBTPanthers about being an LGBT sports fan, David Simms comments and moving forward.

A week ago I sent in a question for the #AskTCW podcast, something I’ve done a handful of times on my own twitter account. But this time it was on behalf of a Twitter account I’ve been involved in forming: the Pink Panthers @LGBTPanthers.
It was a long one, definitely more than 140 characters. Unsurprisingly long because of the subject and the feelings behind it. It was regarding something I thought I would never need to discuss in UK hockey: international reputational damage for our league within the LGBT+ community.

Without this article sounding like a DOPs review, on the 4th of March 2017 an incident took place during a UK hockey game. You won’t need me to tell you what was said, who said it, nor where it happened. Everyone in the league knows, non hockey fans know and more importantly the wider LGBT+ community knows. The latter party (us) being the ones the league should be worrying about right now. Two press releases later I don’t think Sheffield and the league have done enough to allay the issues we as a community have with the incident and how it was dealt with in the days after. Statistically the LGBT+ community is a vastly unrepresented (and economically untapped) group in sport. Both as players, coaches, officials and yes, paying fans.

I understand reading facts, figures and studies can be tedious so please bear with me on this one.
The University of British Columbia recently found in a study that during a 15 year period between 1998 and 2013 there was a significant decline in LGBT+ teens’ participation in sports. This was attributed to the fact LGBT+ people are not eager to “take risks in places where they don’t see overt signs of a welcoming, inclusive and safe place to be”. This was despite the fact key victories were earned around the world for the community during this time. Why, when we are more out and proud than ever in the western world do we find LGBT+ people are still afraid to enjoy sport?

Despite the fact the UK is one of the highest rated countries on ILGA Europe’s “Rainbow” map (described as “the most comprehensive overview of the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people”), we have a huge amount of work to do in sport.
Just last year Greg Clarke (FA chairman) told a commons select committee that he was “cautious of encouraging a player to come out because they suffer significant abuse from fans”.
In the same report it was alleged that over 8% of fans said they would stop watching their team if they signed an outwardly gay player.

You may be wondering why I bought up football, surely hockey as a family friendly sport we are leading the charge in equality and inclusiveness for fans? And aren’t minority sports a lot more inclusive in nature?
47% of all sports fans in a ComRes survey (including minority sports) reported that they had heard homophobic abuse within their sport. These aren’t people making a mistake, a gaffe or using the wrong wording. This is abuse.
One bright point for me is how engaging the various fan led podcasts have been around the league (including TCW), no one has really shied away from the discussion for fear of “saying the wrong thing”. The fact it takes a few more seconds to answer a question while you find the words isn’t a negative, it’s endearing and important to us that you know the impact words can have.

Words have a huge potential to cause emotional harm in an already marginalised community, with recent studies by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center putting the suicide rate for LGBT+ young people between 1.5 to 3 times higher than heterosexual young people. Often people look to us as a community for the right words, phrases and descriptions and we also get it wrong. We don’t expect everyone to get things 100% right every time (yet), but we also don’t expect people to get it so catastrophically wrong as David Simms did. We also expect an unreserved apology if something offensive is said. To those defending the words he used, just because a particular word or phrase doesn’t offend you or those close to you, doesn’t mean it can’t be offensive and harmful to others. If there was a single LGBT+ teenager in that building facing abuse and bullying outside of the sport, how welcome would we have made them feel as a league in our response to the comments?

As a bisexual male, I became drawn to hockey because of how welcoming the Panthers’ fan base are (and the wider Hockey family). I haven’t always been a hockey fan, as a teenager I was a season ticket holder at a local Nottingham football team and a passionate football fan until I was driven away due to homophobic and biphobic abuse. My dad was always super supportive, even when one game I dared to wear pink nail varnish and left the game in tears.
Our local football teams have since come on leaps and bounds with their LGBT+ engagement due to the education work by many brilliant groups and people including a supporter of our own twitter handle and somewhat of an inspiration, @LgbtPies. Unfortunately this was too late for me in my teens so the club lost out on my season ticket and tarnished Football for me as an experience even in later life.

The incident in Sheffield is the first time I’ve ever felt “different” as a UK hockey fan. Which lead to my question for #AskTCW.

After the news breaking internationally there has been undeniable damage to our league’s reputation, we all hope for a positive outcome from the incident – education for those involved and reaffirming the welcoming nature of our league.
Do you think next season the league should have a “#HockeyIsForEveryone” style weekend to show the strength of feeling most fans have and how welcoming our league can be for LGBT+ fans, players and officials? This could coincide with many local pride events near our clubs (with talk that @LGBTPanthers could have a spot on the Manchester & London pride march sports section) and we could welcome new hockey fans to our family (clubs – see: ticket sales).

I believe UK Hockey is missing a trick here, a lot of our community aren’t fans of football and other sports because of the abuse they witness (and receive) and the “lad” culture a number of sports exhibit. I took a close friend to a Manchester Storm game and she loved it. Manchester has a significantly active LGBT+ economy based from the Village and I would be surprised if the Storm don’t look to capitalise on that at some point. Our league is so family friendly, so welcoming to all. I hope the league lets us prove it and ends this situation on a positive note, possibly one we can take advantage of.

And what of David Simms?
I need to make this very clear, I don’t speak for all of the LGBT+ community nor its straight allies. I’ve also given myself some “cool down” time before writing this article, because David hit a nerve that night and I’m not entirely sure he yet appreciates this isn’t just a PR disaster.
Looking online and listening locally into conversations in the Arena and Bunkers Hill, there will be those who saw no harm in what he said and believe nothing should change, conversely there will be those that want nothing short of him being investigated by the police for a “hate crime” and standing up in a court room. I don’t think either of those scenarios are very likely nor popular.

Our mission with this account probably matches what I want to see personally. We will firstly support the Panthers through thick and thin and do everything we can to show the world how inclusive hockey can be. But we will also educate and engage with fans, officials and clubs if they are open to it. On reflection, with a little education and engagement David probably wouldn’t have even thought of the words, let alone said them over a PA system.
At least not without considering the lost 50-50 revenue!

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