As someone who has regularly covered elite women’s hockey over the years, I’ve grown accustomed to hearing snide remarks about the sport from other journalists. If I wasn’t getting an arched eyebrow from some crusty old colleague who unfairly wanted to compare the quality of hockey to men’s hockey, I heard “jokes” about how all the women who succeeded at the highest level of their chosen sport were all lesbians, butchy, abrupt and unfeminine.
Of course, I knew how idiotic all that garbage was. I knew there were straight and gay female players from all walks of life, and I knew they were as friendly and multifaceted as any other group of people. I knew how that hateful mindset said everything about the anger and confusion a head and heart must be entangled in to arrive at those baseless conclusions, and said nothing about the targets of that hate.
But what bothered me most wasn’t each individual bonehead who was compelled to quietly reveal their bigotry to me. Rather, I was troubled to think female players would have to stay in the closet for the years and decades to come as irrational loathing was passed down from one homophobic generation of backward people to another. I could see how careful players on the Canadian or American women’s national team were when discussing their sexuality and I fully understood why. When you could leave a rink or a media scrum without having to worry about the very essence of your soul being judged and challenged by people who didn’t know you, why wouldn’t you do that? Keeping your private life to yourself was the best way to keep a semblance of order in your day-to-day existence.
However, as society has moved rapidly to accept gay people and give them the full spectrum of human rights to which they’re entitled, that sea change has extended into the hockey world. And it’s absolutely wonderful to see these incredibly accomplished women of hockey speak out with pride and confidence about who they really are.
To wit: Canadian national team goaltender Charline Labonte has written an inspirational first-person story in which she describes her life, her hockey journey and her girlfriend (Canadian Olympic speedskater Anastasia Buscis). The 31-year-old, who won three Olympic gold medals in a playing career that ended after the 2014 Sochi Games, made it clear that, although she was always open with her teammates, even the dressing room culture in the women’s game – which has been understanding and accepting even as the world around it failed to do the same – had room to evolve and improve. Read more