I’ve lost count of the number of Flyers games I have gone to over the past twenty-plus years. Through stadium moves and branding changes – winning seasons and losing seasons – I fell in love with the Flyers and the game of hockey.
I vividly remember my first Flyers game. I was in 2nd grade. The game was against the Buffalo Sabres in the old Spectrum, and I was more than slightly overwhelmed by the infamous environment. I also vividly remember the first time I heard the word "faggot" at a Flyers game. I can see the guy in my head – clad in orange and black – with pure hatred on his face. A New York Ranger was the target of his hate speech, but many other victims were within earshot of him, including me.
This homophobia traveled with me – even inside me – as I continued to fall in love with the sport that had become a part of me. When I began to question my sexuality, I also started questioning my place in the hockey world. I didn’t think I could be gay as well as a hockey player. I didn’t think the community would have my back. I pushed myself deep in the closet, and kept playing. It wasn’t until after my last high school games that I decided to take a risk and tell my teammates. They were nothing short of accepting. They loved me as I was. Fear had kept me from being my true self: Fear that had some of its seeds planted at Flyers games.
I know I was not alone in this struggle. Glenn Witman, one of the cofounders of You Can Play also grew up a gay hockey player in the Philadelphia area. "When I was 15yrs old playing for the Philly Little Flyers, it was incredibly fun and represented some of the best years of my life. But I struggled with my sexuality and was untruthful to my friends and family during that time. Thirty years later a lot has changed!"
On Monday, January 25th, the Philadelphia Flyers will be hosting a You Can Play night at 7pm vs. the Boston Bruins. By hosting this night, the Flyers are standing up and making it known that they are an organization that supports lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender players, fans, and staff. Somewhere out there in the Philly area is a young LGBT fan like myself and Glenn who now know that their dreams of playing or working for the Flyers one day don’t have to take a backseat to who they are.
Join us on January 25th to show all those youth and adults that you can be yourself and still be involved in the sport you love. $5 from each ticket sold through the promo code FLYOUCANPLAY will go directly to You Can Play to fund inclusion programming in the Philadelphia area. Get your tickets now! www.philadelphiaflyers.com/promocode enter FLYOUCANPLAY.
There will be a pre-game gathering at 5:15 in the Cure Insurance Club inside the Wells Fargo Center. Look for the You Can Play banner. Hope to see you there!