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Openly gay and thriving at The World’s Most Famous Arena

Joshua Lindsey never dreamed he’d go from Kentucky to New York’s Madison Square Garden, but seeing another out person in sports management changed his life.

Joshua Lindsey
Joshua Lindsey at the season opener of the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden in 2017.

This summer I will celebrate my three-year anniversary of living as an out gay person in New York City, and working at Madison Square Garden.

My story is a testament to the power behind coming out, and the incredible impact you can have by speaking loudly and sharing your story. Someone else was brave enough to tell their story, and my life forever changed because of it.

Without the foundation of kindness and support found within the Outsports community, which gave me courage to embrace who I really am, I would not be living the incredible life that I get to have today

I grew up and went to college in my hometown in south central Kentucky. While I had applied to a few post-graduate opportunities, I was certain at the time that I did not want to relocate far from home. As a regular reader of Outsports, I saw the story written by Joe Altenau on what it was like to be an out gay man in executive management at one of the world’s top arenas, Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.

I couldn’t believe there was someone else in the world doing the work that I had a passion for, while also being honest about who they are. Because Joe left his contact information at the end of his story, I thought it was appropriate to reach out and express my gratitude for sharing his story in such an open way.

I wrote Joe that it was incredibly comforting to learn that in our industry, we can be successful without having to hide who we really are. I finished the email with, “Thank you for being such an inspiration to myself, and other future arena managers growing up in such an uncertain world.”

Joshua Lindsey with his friend and mentor Joe Altenau, who came out publicly in 2017.

Joe offered to talk on the phone about his path in life and what working at the Prudential Center is like. During our call, Joe told me about the upcoming summer internship program that was available in the Event Operations department and encouraged me to apply. I was incredibly nervous about the idea of relocating so far away from home — but I was very curious about the culture of the New Jersey Devils organization and the exciting work experience. Less than four months later, I found myself standing in the main lobby of Prudential Center for my first day as the only intern who was from outside of the greater New York-New Jersey area.

I did just what I said I wouldn’t do and moved almost 1,000 miles away from home, yet at this moment in time I believed this is where I was supposed to be. Since that first day, every person I met in the Devils organization welcomed me with open arms and made the transition easy.

There is nothing glamorous about producing live events. The hours are unforgiving, the clients are demanding and eventually you learn to function with little to no sleep. I loved every minute of it. I know that for the first few weeks, Joe was the only one who knew that I was gay. As I am naturally cautious about who I connect with when I am new somewhere, this was not something about myself I was trying to call out.

I arrived as this goofball from Southern Kentucky, yet the team immediately made me feel at home — like I belonged. While maybe small acts of kindness, it was an incredible feeling as a relative stranger to be invited to after-work get-togethers, baseball games and other fun activities.

All of this led me to naturally being open with everyone; being gay would no longer be a secret, and I found total acceptance. Together throughout the around-the-clock days, the endless event client demands and the overall oddities that come with operating a professional arena in a diverse city like Newark, they became my second family. This experience left me feeling empowered and confident that it was OK for me to be my true self.

Madison Square Garden is lit up for Knicks Pride Night in January.

As the internship was ending, I knew I had chosen an amazing career path and an industry that I really cared about. I also knew that I could not leave the New York market. As much as I wanted to stay with the New Jersey Devils, there were no post-internship options available at the time, but Joe and his team always said they would do anything to help me achieve my goals.

Madison Square Garden had a job posting for a coordinator role that aligned with my interests. I talked to Joe about it, and he offered to connect me with someone he knew who was already working for the company. Less than four months after graduating from college, I was starting a new job working at The World’s Most Famous Arena and becoming a resident of Hell’s Kitchen.

I am ashamed to admit that for the first two years at MSG, I was quiet and withheld ever talking about my personal life. I think I was just overwhelmed by everything that was happening; starting a new job at a massive company, trying to make friends in the biggest city in the world, and just figuring out how to live this new life.

For no other reason than my own fear, I felt like as an outsider who had to prove myself in the company before being open. Finally, one day when talking with our director I told her I had travel plans with the person I was dating. I remember using the word “boyfriend,” and it not stand out as a notable subject.

Eventually, I had become comfortable enough to place a Pride flag on my desk to celebrate New York City hosting World Pride in 2019. At nearly the same time, Madison Square Garden announced the formation of our Diversity and Inclusion Council. Made up of various executives and staff members, the council works to uphold and promote an environment where every employee feels valued regardless of what makes us different — and seeing this action solidified the security I now feel in being able to be myself at the company.

I was even fortunate enough to be promoted to a supervisory position shortly after my two-year anniversary with the company. As the Knicks and Rangers celebrated their Pride Nights this winter, it made me incredibly proud to walk outside and see the exterior of our iconic building lit up in rainbow colors, signifying not just acceptance but support for my LGBTQ community.

As my work life progressively became more comfortable with time, so did my personal life. I moved to New York City without knowing anyone and found making friends to be a daunting challenge at first because of the size of the city.

Joshua Lindsey, in the red shorts, with his Big Apple kickball team.

I played in a gay kickball league when I lived in Kentucky, and someone would later recommend I check out the offerings of Big Apple Rec Sports. Joining the city’s Saturday kickball league was a game changer for me. I was introduced to so many real, quality people and I finally started to feel at home.

Fast forward almost three years, and I am happier than ever, surrounded by the greatest friends I could ever wish for. If someone is looking for acceptance and inclusion in their local community, I will always recommend checking out a sports league of some kind.

Sometimes I wonder what my life would now be like if Outsports did not exist, or if Joe was not brave enough to share his story. Because one person came out in an incredibly open and honest way, it set off a chain of events that led me to the life I have now.

Therefore, it was important for me to do the same in hopes that by sharing my story someone else might feel a positive impact. While I am lucky to now live in the magical bubble of New York City where being free to be who you are can be an afterthought, I know we can’t forget that not everyone has the same luxury.

A person should take as much time as they need to be comfortable with coming out. Courage really is contagious, and I am hopeful that as more people share their story, we can eventually reach the ultimate state where someone does not have to “come out,” they can just “be.”

Joshua Lindsey, 26, is a Staff Services Supervisor for Madison Square Garden. He graduated from Western Kentucky University in 2017 with a major in Sport Management. He can be reached on Instagram or by email (joshuael@me.com).

Story editor: Jim Buzinski

If you are an out LGBTQ person in sports and want to tell your story, email Jim (kandreeky@gmail.com)

Check out our archive of coming out stories.

If you’re an LGBTQ person in sports looking to connect with others in the community, head over to GO! Space to meet and interact with other LGBTQ athletes, or to Equality Coaching Alliance to find other coaches, administrators and other non-athletes in sports.

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