A good friend came out to me as bisexual several years ago when we were alone drinking whiskey in a dark bar with live jazz playing from the front of the bar. My reaction was simply “huh, ok”, and I’ll never forget the look on their face when I said that.
The look said that my reaction was all they hoped for. It didn’t bother me, and I’ve only ever told one person with their permission. Even now I'm careful not to give much information, so as to not potentially give away my friend’s identity since probably 3-4 people know to this day.
People still don’t know, including this person’s family, because of the stigmas still attached to the LGBTQ community in some circles. This person’s story isn’t unique. You likely know many people who have this same struggle, whether you're aware of it or not. Acceptance is critically important to show these people and other marginalized groups that they are important and wanted.
The NHL set aside February as Hockey Is For Everyone month with this stated goal from their website:
“We believe all hockey programs - from professionals to youth organizations - should provide a safe, positive and inclusive environment for players and families regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, disability, sexual orientation and socio-economic status.”
The Dallas Stars Foundation does a lot of good work, but it would be hard to say the Stars as an organization did much for any of those groups during the month outside of those with disabilities. They need to be better all around, but let’s not kid ourselves about the primary focus of this month. One of the main sponsors is the You Can Play Project, which promotes LGBTQ acceptance in sports. League-wide efforts were aimed at the LGBTQ community from pride tape, to rainbow shirts, and other initiatives. They were always intended to be the main focus.
And the Stars stayed silent.
The Carolina Hurricanes, the NHL franchise in North Carolina which has been a hotbed of gay rights news the past couple of years, very actively supported the YCP initiatives. The Nashville Predators peppered social media with their efforts. If these teams in the Deep South can be involved, where were the Stars?
Stars president Jim Lites was asked to answer that question by Mike Heika. His response left a lot to be desired.
"We have run all of the league-sponsored PSAs on `Hockey is for Everyone.' We have donated hundreds of hours to all of the initiatives, including sled hockey, people with disabilities, and the LGBTQ community. If we dropped the ball, we apologize," Lites said. "It's been a hectic week. We have been focused on Dave (Strader) and his return and doing work for the cancer society in conjunction with that. We spent all today with Pevs and the American Heart Association. That's not an excuse, but it is what it is. If we left somebody out, we really apologize."
A vocal section of fans were already displeased, and this response didn’t help. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions about the statement, but what caught my attention was the inclusion of the LGBTQ community in the list of initiatives Lites named.
As far as I was aware the Stars have never been involved with any LGBTQ groups or done anything with the community. In looking through Dallas Stars Foundation literature the only easily identifiable reference to a gay organization was a mention in tiny font at the end of the literature to the Texas Gay Rodeo Association receiving a donation of some amount.
There may be other causes, but if they exist they are hard to find. I ran a survey through Twitter about the situation to get a sense of how people feel about the Stars' February activity. Of the nearly 300 respondents 92% said they aren’t aware of any efforts by the Stars to reach out to the community. If these efforts do exist the Stars don't do nearly enough to publicize them.
57% of those who responded identify as straight. 85% of those who responded said the Stars don’t do enough for the community. Some of the comments absolutely roast the Stars and show a lot of hurt and anger.
People who asked for their responses to remain private were removed. All personal information was removed. Some of the language is rough, so be forewarned. Here are a few examples of what people had to say:
“I love this team, but this was really disappointing, given the way other teams conducted their own HIFE nights. It makes me question whether this team cares about me.”
“I traveled from several states away to attend the Stars home games on Feb 26 and 28, and I couldn't even find the rainbow tshirts in the arena shops. I was even more disappointed by their poor showing given how well they presented Pevs Protects night on the 26th.”
“I was planning on driving up from Austin for the game specifically because it was Hockey Is For Everyone Day, but had a conflict at the last minute and couldn't. Upon finding out what little effort was made, I was both incredibly disappointed in them and glad that I hadn't wasted money and time on buying a ticket for an occasion that they didn't even acknowledge in the slightest way. Considering other efforts around the league (look at the Sharks and Canucks for better examples of what to do), it really made me sad that my team wouldn't even do the bare minimum.”
We reached out to the Stars organization for comment and received this note from Jim Lites.
“The Dallas Stars truly believe that hockey is for everyone. We are approached nearly every day from one cause or another and we try to always give each one their due. This season, we focused on a number of initiatives that ranged from sled hockey to the American Heart Association to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund to DPD and DART, just to name a few. In regards to Hockey Is For Everyone, I stated that we missed an opportunity to make a stronger statement letting people know that we care for the entire DFW community. We have heard from numerous fans regarding this and it will make us better going forward.”
Whether you agree with the need for acknowledgement or not, the fact remains that a large portion of the Stars fanbase was either hurt or disappointed by the lack of activity. I doubt the results stay near 85% over the whole group of Stars fans across the Metroplex. It’s safe to say the lack of activity made an impact though.
My respect for my friend grew tenfold the day they told me their secret. I know telling me was incredibly difficult, and I also know to some degree it lifted a huge burden off of their shoulders. The fact that something that shouldn’t matter, something that literally impacts no one, became such a guarded secret is why acceptance and openness is important.
By doing nothing while most of the rest of the NHL was engaged during Hockey Is For Everyone month the Stars, intentionally or accidentally, passively sent this community the message that they aren’t wanted. I don’t know that this is the message the Stars intended to send, but until they rectify the situation good people will continue to suffer the consequences.
You can follow Josh Lile on Twitter at @JoshL1220