The first time Voight Demeester was called a “faggot” by an opposing player last Saturday, he skated it off. The Penn State club ice hockey player wasn’t about to let an opponent from the satellite campus of Penn State Altoona get under his skin.
But when the player came back, got in his face, and called him the gay slur a second time, he had had enough. Demeester skated to the referee and reported the incident. Unable to penalize anyone based on a report, the referee reported it to the Penn State Altoona captain and coach. The slurs stopped.
Demeester played the rest of the game as a man on a mission. He hit harder. He skated faster. The slur motivated him to show his opponent just what a “faggot” could do. Penn State beat Altoona, 4-3.
"In the moment I was disappointed for the fact that they represent Penn State,” Demeester told Outsports. “But at the same time it fueled my fire in a way that drove me to play better the rest of the game. I started hitting a lot more because I wanted this ‘faggot’ to beat them."
Still, the idea of an athlete calling another athlete that word did not sit well with Demeester well after the game. He reported the incident to Outsports, which contacted the Penn State Altoona athletic department. Their hockey coach, Tom Lantz, had chosen to not report the incident to the athletic department — Outsports’ inquiry was the first they had heard of it.
Now both schools are working together to make sure positive movement happens from the incident and these kinds of slurs don’t make their way into competition ever again.
“We are addressing the situation through the Athletics Department and the Penn State Altoona Office of Student Affairs, Institutional Equity and Diversity,” the Penn State Altoona Varsity Athletics and the Department of Penn State Altoona Recreation told Outsports in a statement. “This type of behavior is unacceptable at any point in time, and we will aggressively address the issue.
“The club ice hockey team and coaches have been supportive of LGBTQ issues in the past, and they are aware that this type of incident should not be tolerated. We will be addressing it through all avenues of governance at Penn State Altoona.
“Here at Penn State Altoona, we pride ourselves on being open, diverse, and tolerant, and these types of incidents are not taken lightly and are certainly not condoned. We are also reaching out to the club ice hockey coach at Penn State University Park."
Penn State Altoona is located about 45 miles southwest of the Penn State main campus at State College. As a satellite campus of Penn State, its mascot is also the Nittany Lion. Undergraduate enrollment at Penn State Altoona is about 4,100 students.
John Carey, the director of recreation and facilities at Penn State Altoona, sent a separate message of remorse to Outsports about the incident.
“Please know that incidents of this nature are not tolerated or condoned by our club sports programs at Penn State Altoona. ... Matters like this are taken very seriously at Penn State Altoona.”
By Tuesday evening, Penn State Altoona athletic director Brent Baird had already been in touch with his counterpart at Penn State’s main campus.
Altoona sports information director Conner Gilbert said that the offending player reported he was not aware that Demeester is in fact gay. It is not a surprise that an athlete would use a gay slur against an athlete he did not think was gay, as the slur has come to mean “weak” in the eyes of our culture.
That Demeester is in fact gay speaks to the importance of eradicating this hurtful word from sports.
Altoona head coach Lantz told Outsports through Gilbert that, whether his player thought the target of his hate speech was gay or straight, “those kinds of comments are completely unacceptable.”
While Demeester did come out publicly as gay with a story on Outsports in September, it’s certainly within the realm of possibility that the player had not seen the story. Demeester told Outsports that his own head coach had not seen the story and just found out yesterday — because of this incident — that his player is gay.
Demeester told Outsports that his main goal in talking publicly about this incident, and bringing it to the attention of the Penn State and Penn State Altoona athletic departments, is to make sure this kind of behavior stops happening on the ice, field and court.
"I hope there is some better understanding and an awareness that when you're on the ice, me being gay doesn't inhibit me from playing like a guy who’s straight. Or being a girl doesn't mean they can't play like a guy can.
“In a perfect word, there would be no reason to call someone a faggot or anything else, but this world isn't perfect and each person thinks and feels what they want. It takes one person at a time to make a difference, and I think doing this and talking about this opens the doors for conversation and education. There really isn’t any education on LGBT issues in club sports."
Thanks to Demeester speaking out, we know there will be that education happening at the club-sports level of the athletic department at Penn State Altoona, and in all likelihood more broadly on the campus.