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Globall-ization: How the War of Words Hurts Gay Jocks


Jim Provenzano | May 11, 2004
A cool moment from the gold-medal match at Gay Games VI in Sydney in 2002.
Photo: Jim Provenzano Related links
IGLIHA
Boston Pride Hockey
NYC Gay Hockey
San Francisco Quakes
Chicago Games Inc
Montreal 2006

Major league hockey is in trouble. Between St. Louis Blues forward Mike Danton's April arrest for a bizarre murder-for-hire plot, and the Canucks' Todd Bertuzzi's March assault on Colorado Avalanche forward Steve Moore, the sport sometimes proves the worst of its violent stereotypes.

But amateur gay leagues thrive in the United States and Canada with no such incidents. In fact, a few romances have even blossomed between players.

"There isn't anything we're afraid of, which is why [the sport is] growing so quickly," says Jeff Kagan, Commissioner of the International Gay & Lesbian Ice Hockey Association (IGLIHA). Kagan also founded New York City's gay hockey league and plays on one of its teams, the Pucks. "It's the thrill and excitement of the game and the camaraderie that really empowers us as individuals and as a team," he says.

Which players might be gay or lesbian may be a moot point, since it's difficult to tell who's male or female under the bulky uniforms. Players can spend upwards of $1,000 on new equipment. Finding used equipment cuts costs. But for devoted players, either way, it's worth it.

Jeffrey Higgins, President of Boston Pride Hockey and a member of the Lasers, has been playing for 23 years, since he was 5 years old.

After a 12-year growth in the sport, Boston now boasts more than 75 players on two teams. Both play in competitive divisions in the New England Senior Hockey League. The lower division Lobsters are known for their unofficial mascot, a cluster of inflatable crustaceans.

Both teams include straight men and women, gays, lesbians, and a few transgenders. Yet "the physical aspect of the game is very much there," says Higgins. "The no-check rule is to bar heavy hitting. After all, we all have to work the next morning."

Higgins says assaults in the pros "give hockey a more brutal appearance than it really has. It is a physical, and at times rough, sport." Checking players because they're gay is extremely rare, Higgins says. "We certainly hold our own. Despite a few errant comments from time to time, we're treated as any other opponent on the ice."

Michelle Mateychuk, who captains the Oakland B-division of the San Francisco Quakes, plays regularly as part of the Bay Area's only two gay teams, which travel to regional tournaments. The Quakes took gold in their division at Sydney's Games.

"Typically, we go to the Los Angeles tournament over Labor Day Weekend and the Vancouver tournament Easter weekend," says Mateychuk, whose on-ice concerns are more about her diminutive size than the attitudes of opponents.

Paul O'Kane of Toronto, correspondence secretary for IGLIHA, says his sport has grown from about 10 teams in 1996 to almost 50 teams throughout North America. He credits the Internet with increasing communication and visibility for GLBT hockey.

"GLBT hockey has certainly transformed my life dramatically," says O'Kane, who started playing in 1995 in Toronto's Gay Hockey Association. "I quickly found my family and became involved in many aspects of the league."

While coordinating Toronto tournaments, O'Kane met his current partner, who was a visiting hockey player from San Francisco. An extended visit led to more romance and, of course, more hockey.

"We played at the Oakland Ice Center on straight teams, all of whom knew we were gay," says O'Kane. "We also coached the Oakland pee-wee team, one of the most rewarding experiences in my life." After returning to the East Coast, O'Kane and his partner became "civil unioned" in 2000, in front of friends and family.

But there may be no love lost when hockey teams have to choose between Gay Games VII in Chicago or Montreal's Rendez-Vous, both scheduled for summer 2006. The widely covered dispute between the Federation of Gay Games (FGG) and Montreal is particularly difficult for ice hockey. Should Canadian teams not attend Gay Games VII, U.S. teams will miss an opportunity to challenge their fiercest competitors.

O'Kane says, "I don't believe much good will come of the split now tearing through the GLBT sports community."

To make matters worse, IGLIHA is no longer a member of the Federation. Last year, it missed the filing deadline for membership renewal, due to internal restructuring. The request to extend the filing deadline was voted down and their membership revoked.

"Our primary objective will be to explore how GLBT hockey players could be better served, working with the Federation to promote their events to our membership," says O'Kane. "IGLIHA has its roots entrenched in North America. Our focus in 2006 will be to keep the gay hockey community together, united and strong."

O'Kane remains hopeful. "Hockey players are crazy for hockey and will generally surpass any obstacle to play," he says. "I don't foresee any shortage of hockey players in Chicago or Montreal."

Jim Provenzano is the author of the novels PINS and Monkey Suits. Read more sports articles at www.sportscomplex.org


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