My coming out as gay as manager of the University of Connecticut ice hockey team is a story in two parts.
The part that was both accidental yet good came in my second semester, when I accidentally outed myself to the team. I let slip one day in a conversation that I would be hanging out with my boyfriend that weekend without realizing what I had said.
At the time, I was still relatively new with the team and did not want to jeopardize my position by being open with who I was.
When my sophomore year came, I decided that I wanted to let the team know, but didn’t realize my secret was already out. One night I was texting with one of the players and decided to test the waters.
He took it in stride, didn’t even really acknowledge it when I hinted to him, so I did it again but more obviously to make sure he got my meaning. That’s when he told me that the guys already knew and were cool with me being gay.
The amount of tension that I dropped in that moment was staggering. I cried knowing that my fears were completely unfounded. It made me feel appreciated and a part of the team like I hadn’t been before.
I started wearing a simple bracelet with a rainbow emblem around the team and engaged in many more conversations and team meals with the guys and did not purposefully separate myself. I was closer to them for it and I appreciated them for that.
The not-so-good part of my coming out occurred just before Thanksgiving that same semester. I was informed by a faculty member that it had been brought before team leadership that a player was uncomfortable with me being in the locker room, and I was asked to not go there until it could be sorted out.
With it being break, it was another week before I would see anyone involved with the program. I was upset.
Someone had an issue with me and had made assumptions about my motivations to have this position based on my sexuality with little regard for my actions and personality outside of my sexuality. He had taken a route that had impacted me negatively rather then approaching me personally about it.
The player and I never spoke directly about this and I was never told who exactly it was, though I have a general idea.
After a couple of weeks of being wary and anxious, it was resolved and I had some very good conversations that reaffirmed that I was a valued member of the program and one of the guys just like everyone else. And over time it has completely faded away and there are no longer any barriers between me and any of the guys.
I was told that I was the first openly LGBTQ member of the team or staff and nobody really knew what to do. Since I was the first, there was no precedent.
Hockey as a sport has an image that seems to exclude gay people. This is not intentional, but has more to do with what hockey and hockey culture have become synonymous with: masculinity, scoring with girls and generally almost every stereotype about the “manly man.”
There has not been much room for LGBTQ people in the sport, but that is changing.
People such as Brian Burke and his family, NHL players Kurtis Gabriel and the You Can Play organization have helped to try and change the culture, mainly on the NHL level.
In the NCAA, the late Brendan Burke — who came out in 2009 — was the only openly gay student manager for the D1 Miami of Ohio men’s hockey team until I came out. I owe Brendan and his family so much for their trailblazing efforts.
UConn and Brendan’s Miami of Ohio program play each other every two years, including this year when they are coming to Connecticut to play us. It’s nice to see two teams play each other that both have accepting, close ties to the LGBTQ community.
In high school, I came out to my cross-country team in my senior year. With help from the women’s team and the women’s coach, I made a T-shirt with the girls’ team that had the team logo and a Pride flag on it that I wore to the next meet. It turned out a bit awkward and uncomfortable and resulted in me being closer to the runners on the girls and further from the guys.
During the 2016 election, I decided to come out publicly using Facebook, outing myself to my family. My family’s response was overwhelmingly positive despite my fears how some might react.
After committing to UConn, I got my position as student manager for the men’s ice hockey team. I am getting a bachelor of fine arts degree in design and technical production and in my freshman year I was afraid to be out fully outside of the dramatic arts department, not sure how the team would take me being gay.
After the initial bumps of coming out, I am lucky to be a part of such an accepting and amazing group of guys here at UConn and consider them friends.
The captains make sure I feel like one of the guys, the players hang out with me at meals and on weekends and I feel comfortable making jokes with the coaches and rest of the staff. I am not alone.
The rink is my second home on campus, and being able to bridge the gap and to change perceptions of stereotypes about the “unaccepting, offensive hockey bros” is one way I try to thank the guys.
Being gay and being a member of a hockey team are not mutually exclusive, and I am proof of that. Not only do I love my job but I am a better person for having it and my life is more complete for being around the guys.
The biggest lesson I have learned is to be confident in myself and not let fears about my sexuality hold me back. And it’s a lesson I hope someone can learn from me instead of the hard way on their own. #BleedBlue #YouCanPlay
Gavin Parker, 21, will be graduating from the University of Connecticut at Storrs in May 2020 with a bachelor of fine arts in design/tech production. He is also a former cross-country runner, and will be the Assistant Technical Director of Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s “Little Shop of Horrors” in April 2020. He can be found on Instagram (@gav_bparker) or reached via email: email@example.com.
Story editor: Jim Buzinski
If you are an out LGBTQ person in sports and want to tell your story, email Jim (firstname.lastname@example.org).