During June, the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association’s joint Hockey Is For Everyone initiative will celebrate Pride Month. All 32 NHL Clubs, alumni, and current players will participate in pride events, including parades, across North America. As part of Pride Month, NHL.com will share stories about the LGBTQI+ hockey community. Today, an account from LNH.com writer Guillaume Lepage, who has covered League activities, including the recent Western Conference Final, the Montreal Canadiens, and prospects ahead of the annual NHL Draft, for the past five years.
Ten years. It took me 10 years to overcome my fears and my apprehensions, and to come to the conclusion that I could continue to practice my job as a journalist in the hockey world without having to hide behind a mask, by just being myself. Openly homosexual.
During this decade-long personal journey and process of acceptance, I was also constantly asking myself if the person that I really was could go through all the necessary steps to finally settle into such an environment, which is known to be a bit conservative.
Even though I am now well established in my field, I still kept asking myself the same question over and over. Until last summer.
Everything changed on July 19, 2021 — the day Luke Prokop became the first active player under contract to an NHL team to come out as gay. When I saw all the support and positive reactions from all corners of the hockey industry, I decided that the time had come. I was ready, and the last obstacle that was holding me back had just fallen.
Two days later, I had come out to my family, my friends, and a few colleagues. An exhausting process emotionally, but one that only had positive repercussions. At 30 years old, I have never been happier, more fulfilled, and closer to the ones around me than in the last year.
I don’t have anything to hide anymore. I’m no longer walking on eggshells or adapting what I want to say according to a particular context.
In that way, my story is no different than the ones of everybody who came out at one moment or another in their life, or the ones that don’t feel quite ready to do so. What distinguishes this from the others is the fact that it will forever be linked to hockey, for better or worse.
I love my sport and I love my job. I know that there is still a lot of room for improvement in terms in diversity and inclusion, but the fact that more and more members of the hockey community feel comfortable sharing their story is an encouraging sign of progress. But it can’t stop there.
I am writing in the hope that this will be another step forward. The goal is not to put myself in the spotlight – that’s really not in my nature – but to add my voice to the few who have had the courage to come out in the hockey world.
Some might say that this is my private life, and that I should only share this with my close circle. But representation matters. When you see someone with a path similar to the one you plan to take blossom on a personal and professional level, you can say to yourself: “Why not me”?
It’s important. More so since the number of models of sexual and gender diversity in the hockey community, and in the sports media industry in general, is not very high. Far from it. Luke Prokop was my model, and I just hope that my story can help at least one person feel better about himself or herself. To accept themselves as they are.
Had I read such a testimony while I was still a student, maybe that the idea of working my way through the sports industry without having to constantly hide that part of me would have grown in my mind. Maybe I would not have deprived myself of a lot of great experiences in my 20s. The list of “maybes” runs long.
To be perfectly honest, I’m still a bit uneasy about this second coming out – a tad more public this time. I must admit that I wonder if the perception of all the people I worked with and with whom I forged strong ties over the past decade will change toward me. I hope that we are past that, in 2022.
It doesn’t matter. I think that it is necessary to get this discussion going in the sports industry. We need to ask ourselves why there are still too many players and people in this business who choose to live with that secret. We need to think about how we can change the culture and show more openness. If my story can help promote awareness among those who work in our industry, that will already be a win. The rest is secondary.
There is no good reason to prevent ourselves from living our life out of fear of the judgment of others. No good reason to wait ten years trying to find your place in your career field before asserting yourself. No good reason not to say it loud and clear: I’m gay, and proud to be.