A Northern Ontario native, who calls himself the first openly gay professional hockey player, is in the Maritimes trying to change the culture of homophobic language within the sport.
Brock McGillis, 34, spent some time this week with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
McGillis says he too helped perpetuate that very culture when he was playing, almost to his peril.
“It made me hate myself,” said McGillis.
“It made me believe I couldn’t be myself. It made me want to die most days and I actually tried to kill myself while I was playing major junior.”
McGillis, long since retired, decided to come out publicly about two years ago. The murderous rampage at an Orlando Florida gay bar angered him.
At the same time he says his sexuality was used against him in his business where he mentored and worked with young hockey players.
“I had associations just tell me you can’t work with our players,” McGillis explained.
“Associations I was coaching in, where they’d allow me to coach for free, but my business wasn’t allowed to work with the players… I had others (that when) coaches found out I was gay, they kicked me off their staff.”
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The Sea Dogs are the first Q-league team McGillis has spoken to about inclusiveness through a change in language.
Team leaders say they’re convinced his message will have an impact.
“Even some of the guys now, they’ll just… they’ll hear someone just randomly say it and they’ll just say ‘listen, don’t,'” said Bailey Webster, the Sea Dogs captain.
McGillis says the conversation needs to start at the major junior level at the latest.