The Cutting Edges marched with the Vancouver Canucks in the 2019 Pride parade, and have been working towards creating space for the queer community in hockey for nearly three decades.
Team vice-president Brennan Roy-Bertin said the NHL had made major strides in the last 10 years towards making hockey an inclusive sport for queer people — progress that is now in jeopardy.
“Ever since March it seems like it has been one step backward one at a time,” he told Global News.
In March, seven NHL players balked at wearing Pride-themed warmup jerseys during club Pride night events, citing religious and political reasons.
In June, the league moved to ban all Pride and other themed warmup jerseys, calling the issue a distraction.
Earlier this month, it sent a memo to teams further expanding on its guidance, banning the use of Pride-themed stick tape for any on-ice activities.
“So it seems as though it has gone a completely different direction and all the work that’s been put in over the last decade has been undone,” Roy-Bertin said.
“It’s a little demotivating, for one. But also it goes to show there is a need to continue to push for this in our community, to advocate for social rights.”
While Pride jerseys and tape have been scrubbed from on-ice activities, players and teams remain free to support the community in other ways, something Canucks captain Quinn Hughes vowed the club would do.
“I’ve preached it before, last year in this locker room: this organization, with Pride we will always support that,” he said Tuesday.
“We may not be doing anything on the ice, but we will still be doing other things off the ice to support it.”
On Wednesday, former Canucks General Manager Brian Burke, who helped found the You Can Play project promoting diversity and inclusivity in sports, also slammed the Pride tape decision.
You Can Play was founded in 2011 after the death of Burke’s son, who came out as gay while managing the Miami University hockey team.
In a statement posted to social media, Burke called the tape decision a “surprising and serious setback.”
“This is not inclusion or progress,” Burke, now president of the PWHL players’ association, wrote. “Fans look to teams and the league to show they are welcome, and this directive closes a door that’s been open for the last decade.”
You Can Play has issued its own statement on the decision, which said the league’s moves had left it at a point where “all the progress made, and relationships established with our community, is in jeopardy.”
“It is now clear that the NHL is stepping back from its longstanding commitment to inclusion, and continuing to unravel all of its one-time industry-leading work on 2SLGBTQ+ belonging,” the group said.
Roy-Bertin, who said there are more than 30 organizations like the Cutting Edges in North America, is still holding out hope the league will reverse course on its decision.
“I don’t know if it is political views, religious views or personal views, I really don’t know, but it just seems as if there have been so many backwards movements in the last six months,” he said.
“It’s not just because we want to play hockey. There is a need to make hockey for everyone.”