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Homosexuality in hockey: University of Alberta researcher studies changing attitudes

WATCH ABOVE: A University of Alberta researcher says exposure and education are essential to changing attitudes toward LGBTQ players. Dr. Cheryl MacDonald has interviewed Major Midget AAA players and former NHLers.

A researcher at the University of Alberta says education is key to changing attitudes toward homosexuality in hockey.

Dr. Cheryl MacDonald studies hockey, gender and sexuality, and her work has seen her interview Major Midget AAA players and former NHLers.

MacDonald’s research shows minor hockey players are sometimes caught between what they are exposed to in their personal lives, versus at the rink.

“These youth are in an interesting place, where they’re part of the generation that is supposed to be very open-minded. They might have people in their families that identify as LGBT, people in their schools, they have access to information on the internet and television,” she said on Tuesday.

“At the same time, they are in a sport that tends to be very exclusive of the LGBT community.”

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MacDonald has found the players who might not be as accepting, are those who don’t know people in the community.

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“It’s a matter of creating visibility,” she said.

READ MORE: Openly gay former pro fights homophobia in hockey

There’s never been a player to be both openly gay and in the NHL. MacDonald has found the biggest theme for those top-tier players is trying not to let their personal identities become a distraction.

“A job in the NHL is so lucrative, and sometimes so short-lived, that the idea of getting media attention or perhaps feeling like you need to be a spokesperson is not worth it,” she said.

“Perhaps it’s easiest to just keep it inside until you’re finished playing,” she explained.

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MacDonald has been studying homosexuality in hockey since 2012 and says the issue has been changing quickly.

“Now I find myself talking to former NHL players, and it’s not just about homosexuality — we’re talking about the trans community as well because they’re starting to make an appearance in hockey.”

READ MORE: Calgary’s first gay hockey team, the Pioneers, changing culture around Canada’s game

MacDonald is currently working under a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Alberta, looking at how to make hockey more inclusive for players who identify as LGBTQ.

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“We really need to try to have patience with people who aren’t up to speed yet, because it’s a question of education, and not forcing someone’s hand into inclusion.”

Her fellowship is part of a partnership between the U of A’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies & Services and  You Can Play. Part of her work includes organizing a Hockey Conference at the U of A for this July, with the goal of bringing together community members with academics who study ice hockey.