To most people out there, the insinuation that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is a pedophile and a homosexual is completely outlandish. The notion is so absurd, in fact, it isn’t even worth a second thought.
But that equation changes when the reckless rhetoric is emanating from the Twitter feed of a two-time Stanley Cup champion with more than 84,500 followers.
Ex-NHL forward Dustin Penner, who played nine seasons in the league and won championships with the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings, implied on Twitter this week Trudeau is a pedophile. When a follower called him out on the ludicrous assertion, Penner responded with homophobic insults, before saying he believes Trudeau is gay as well.
Brock McGillis, a gay former semi-pro hockey player who came out in 2016, quote-tweeted the thread and said those kinds of insults caused him to contemplate suicide earlier in his life.
So Dustin Penner made some homophobic comments and not so indirectly linked pedophilia to homosexuality.— Brock McGillis (@brock_mcgillis) April 6, 2020
These comments by hockey guys while I played made me want and try to kill myself. They made me hate myself so much. Con’t pic.twitter.com/kM5H2ptuIM
While Penner’s unhinged Twitter presence makes Curt Schilling look dignified — the ex-forward frequently posts QAnon and coronavirus conspiracies — McGillis says it’s naive to dismiss Penner’s attacks as the ramblings of an extremist. He says those insults are still prevalent, especially in sports locker rooms across the world.
“I’ve been called those things. I’ve been called those things in 2017, 2018. The trans community gets referred to as pedophiles all the time,” McGillis said to Outsports on the phone. “Dustin Penner might be an extreme case, but it doesn’t mean it’s not getting said elsewhere. It doesn’t mean other people aren’t as extreme as him. There’s 80,000 followers there. I think it’s important to shed light on it.”
McGillis has first-hand experience with the evils of homophobia. Though he didn’t publicly come out until 2016, his sexuality wasn’t a secret in the hockey community. The previous year, he was ousted without explanation from the association where he was coaching, and no longer allowed to work with its players. His competitors outed him, creating an intensifying drumbeat of whispers that became impossible to ignore.
The experience showed McGillis there’s still intense animosity against the LGBTQ community in hockey circles. He says it’s important to call it out.
“Being gay and being a pedophile has been a stigma within the gay community forever,” McGillis said. “If you’re going to use it against the community, it has massive impact. When you put those two things together, that rhetoric is very dangerous, especially when you have 80,000 followers.”
An attempt to reach Penner for comment was unsuccessful, but those who want to read his views are treated to an unfiltered daily diatribe on his Twitter feed. He boasts quite an audience, and it’s important to remain vigilant.
“It’s great we get to shed light on good things and empowerment, but I think it’s also critical to move things forward that we don’t forget there’s still adversity out there,” McGillis said. “We have to continue to push forward and breakdown barriers and have those conversations with people who may be apathetic and think everything is fine for gay people today.”
If you are a trans or gender-nonconforming person considering suicide, Trans Lifeline can be reached at 877-565-8860. LGBT youth (ages 24 and younger) can reach the Trevor Project Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386. Adults can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 24 hours a day, and it’s available to people of all ages and identities.