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Avalanche sidestep questions about emphasis on straight allies on NHL Pride Night

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The Colorado Avalanche received complaints last week about its Pride Night promotion, aimed at allies instead of members of our community.

Colorado Avalanche v Carolina Hurricanes Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images

The Carolina Hurricanes hosted the Colorado Avalanche on Friday in a tight matchup that ended in a 3-2 victory for the Avalanche, but LGBTQ Hurricanes fans still left PNC Arena with a lot to be excited about.

The entire arena, both inside and out, was all decked-out for the Raleigh team’s official Pride Night, and the festivities included rainbow jerseys, Pride tape in abundance, and every fan buying a special promotional ticket to the game received a Pride-themed Hurricanes scarf and the team made a donation to a local LGBT+ organization. The national anthem was sung by the Triangle Gay Mens’ Chorus, a local Raleigh-based chorus, whose performance you can watch on their Twitter.

The team was also extremely strong in its social media messaging, encouraging fans to share their stories about what Pride night means to them and engaging with the responses.

The LGBTQ outreach on the part of the visiting team, however, shows that the NHL still has some work to do when it comes to striking a clear tone that reflects the meaning behind why sports teams host Pride Nights in the first place. In this case, the Avalanche posts on social media solicited “allies” to send them a video of support, saying “I am an ally,” leading up to their own Pride Night on Wednesday, March 4th.

On its own, it’s a well-meaning gesture. But the Avalanche’s failure to also include any kind of acknowledgement of LGBTQ fans themselves is a choice, to uplift only self-identified allies’ voices, one that was called out across social media as a mistake. Fans from the LGBTQ community reacted broadly with disappointment at the general sense that this messaging implied that hockey fan culture had the space to center straight allies’s voices, but not those of LGBTQ-identified fans themselves.

Some also directed their disappointment not just at the Avalanche but at the You Can Play project (YCP), the non-profit social activist organization dedicated to the eradication of homophobia and transphobia in sports.

According to reporting by Hilary Keane in Mile High Sticking, the Avalanche were also initially marketing their Pride Night tickets by selling “Ally packages” on their ticket website, which have since been changed to “Pride packages,” but as Keane reported, “with no apology or acknowledgement that this was not the right direction to go in.”

Outsports reached out to the Avalanche, seeking a response to the tweets and Keane’s report. A spokesperson for the team emailed a statement that did not directly address criticism from fans, and sidestepped the questions posed by Keane in her report:

“The Colorado Avalanche has worked for several years to champion diversity. We’ve partnered with You Can Play to welcome LGBTQ fans, friends, families and supporters in truly showing that Hockey Is for Everyone.”

This kind of muddled messaging by the team, failure to be upfront when questioned directly by fans on social media on how they can do better, and responding to media questions with misdirection, shouldn’t be dismissed offhand. Including allies in the fight against homophobia within fan circles is critical, but it should be implicit in every team’s fan outreach that Pride celebrations center LGBTQ fan experiences first and foremost. Self-professed allies need to do the work year-round of countering virulent homophobia that persists in many hockey fan communities — not just on designated nights.

You Can Play president Brian Kitts told us he agrees with that last point.

“Bluntly, how a team works year-round is as important, if not more, than the one night a year when the rainbow flag flies,” said Kitts in an email to Outsports.

“Hockey Is For Everyone” events are You Can Play’s signature project with the NHL. With the organization’s help. the league became the first to enlist a member of each club to speak on behalf of LGBTQ athletes. In 2017, all 30 teams sold Pride T-shirts, and the number of teams hosting such events has grown slowly over the eight years since YCP was founded. In fact, 2019 was the first year every team in the league took part in the project’s signature event. This season, many teams are going one step beyond “Hockey Is For Everyone,” following the New Jersey Devils’ lead in hosting actual Pride Nights.

As far as how the Avalanche marketed its Pride Night to LGBTQ allies, Kitts shared his feelings both as a gay man and on behalf of his organization:

“My personal goal is to make venues safe and welcoming for LGBTQ fans,” Kitts wrote. “In the past two years, I’ve personally witnessed in-venue homophobia and believe it’s as prevalent an issue as homophobia in locker rooms.”

“Captain Gabe Landeskog has been an invaluable, vocal supporter for more than five years. I deeply appreciate what any team does in recognizing its LGBTQ audience, but I especially appreciate a team willing to take a next step.

“When we discussed the importance of allies with the Avs, I truly believe it makes sense to have a discussion about how allies can speak up — particularly in-venue. That’s what the Avs are doing. I want my friends and family to feel empowered to shout down homophobia in a rink and this is a good way to start. I’ll be at the game with my LGBTQ friends. But, the huge majority of fans that night — including the 10 people I’m bringing with me — are allies.

“When it comes down to it, You Can Play was founded as a way to have allies speak to each other about their behaviors in sports. Along the way, some cool rainbow jerseys, sticks and flags showed up. These aren’t mutually exclusive and LGBTQ athletes, fans and allies form a complete bond in changing sports. There will be plenty of signs that LGBTQ fans are welcome, but the Avs are also signaling that there’s more work to do and they, as allies, intend to be part of it.

“We’re all in this together and each of our voices matters in changing these cultures.”

The Colorado Avalanche hosts the Anaheim Ducks Wednesday, March 4, at 7:30 p.m. at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Click here for tickets and click here for the Pride Night promotion. Using promo code ATAVSPRIDE, fans will receive an Avs branded Pride hat, and access to the ice to take a slap shot after the game. A portion of the proceeds benefits You Can Play.

EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version of this story said every fan attending Carolina Hurricanes Pride Night received a Pride-themed scarf, when in fact that was only distributed to fans who purchased a special promotion ticket package. Our report has been updated and we’re grateful to our readers for noting the error.