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‘These are walls that crumble over time’: Hockey executive Brian Burke at Edmonton panel on gay athletes in sport

WATCH ABOVE: Brian Burke of the Calgary Flames spoke to Global News before taking part in a special panel discussion in Edmonton about the LGBTQ community's experience in sport. He talked about three different steps people can take to support the LGBTQ community in their everyday lives.

Some prominent Canadian sports figures gathered at downtown Edmonton’s Stanley A. Milner Library Wednesday evening to discuss the experiences of LGBTQ athletes in their field.

Among those taking part in the event, dubbed “Championing equality: LGBTQ (ac)counts in sports,” were Calgary Flames hockey operations president Brian Burke and two-time Canadian Olympic speedskater Anastasia Bucsis.

“Sports should be inclusive and a safe space for everyone,” Bucsis said. “We just need to keep talking and we need to just discuss the issues that are affecting LGBT athletes right now and get that message out.”

“Sport has given me absolutely everything I can dream of: I’ve been on the national team for almost a decade, 50 World Cups, six World Championships, two Winter Olympic Games,” Bucsis, an openly gay athlete, added. “I also understand that a disproportionate amount of LGBT athletes drop out of sport because they don’t feel safe.”

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Panel organizers said the discussion was aimed at better understanding the successes and challenges faced by gay athletes in both professional and amateur sport and to look at how barriers facing the LGBTQ community can be eliminated in sport.

“There’s no question we’ve made massive steps (towards equality),” Burke said. “I mean, if you’re a gay male in today’s society, your life is infinitely better than it was 10 years ago, let alone 30 or 40 years ago. But there’s still a vast, vast amount of work that needs to be done, there’s still a great gulf between where we should be with the LGBT community.”

In 2010, Burke’s son Brendan was killed in a car crash just months after coming out as gay. Brendan, who was also actively involved in the hockey community, is widely seen by many as having broken down barriers in a sport with few openly gay players.

“I got involved in this cause my son was gay and we lost my son and we decided we were going to do as much work as our family could on his behalf and in his memory,” Burke said.

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“It’s a lonely thing to be a trailblazer and that’s what I told Brendan when he came out,” Burke said in a September interview after being named the marshal at Calgary’s 2015 Pride Parade. “I said, ‘You’re the first in college hockey and that’s sometimes a lonely path.'”

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READ MORE: Brian Burke stresses importance of Pride Parade and supporting LGBTQ community

Watch below: In June 2014, Brian Burke spoke to Global Calgary about the ‘You Can Play’ project which aims to make locker rooms and sports venues free from homophobia.

READ MORE: #OneTeam: Canadian Olympic Committee launches LGBTQ inclusion campaign

“In my mind, the goal here is that I don’t have to speak here in five years or in 10 years,” Burke said. “The goal here is that we don’t have Pride parades or if we do, we do (them) to truly celebrate this community expressing itself, saying, ‘We’re important and we count.'”

“There’s ignorance and fear and bias…these are walls that crumble over time, they’re not doors that you can kick in,” Burke added.

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People involved with Pride Tape, an initiative to raise money to help promote more inclusivity for LGBTQ youth in sport through the sale of rainbow-coloured hockey tape, set up a table in the theatre’s lobby to sell its product and raise awareness.

In January, Pride Tape received significant publicity when the Edmonton Oilers players used the product during the team’s skills competition at Rexall Place.

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READ MORE: Oilers use Pride Tape at skills competition

The panel discussion was moderated by Dr. Kris Wells with the University of Alberta’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Service.

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