Photo courtesy of Brock McGillis
Brock McGillis isn’t just a former OHL and professional hockey playing, having played in both the USA and Europe; he is also the first, and so far only, pro hockey player to openly come out as gay. In addition to providing on and off-ice training with elite level hockey players in the City of Greater Sudbury, Brock also serves as a mentor and a motivational speaker.
With a mission to create equality regardless of sexuality, gender or race, and a focus of helping LGBTQ+ youth on loving themselves, he has an important message. He also wants to help all youth shift their language, treat others with respect and become the support system that LGBTQ+ kids need. I was deeply touched by his message. I’m straight, or what’s considered an ally, but I have many people in my life from this community. It absolutely breaks my heart to think of them being hated just for being who they are. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not a hockey fan. The only sport I love watching is figure skating, but when you hear a story that is so humane, I needed to know more. Brock was kind enough to call me and answer some questions. To illustrate the kind of person that he is, this is someone who made the time to chat with me, even though he’s been interviewed by the likes of CBC’s The National, Yahoo and other bigger and better newspapers and blogs and for that I’m thankful. Here are just some of the questions that I asked:
Children, including those that are part of the LGBTQ+ community have pressures on them that even you may not have experienced growing up. For example, with social media, there is no escape from bullying, you can’t even get away from it at home. What tips or tools do you recommend to help cope with these additional pressures?
First off, tell someone. It’s hard to engage with a bully and I don’t encourage kids to do this. You may not be in a place to confront the bully. If I’m reactive to a bully, there will be a barrier. If you are going to speak to them, personalize it. For example, I ask them if they know that 95% of people know someone who is LGBTQ+. It could be a family member or a friend. Ask if they would want a person in their life to be hurt or if they would intentionally hurt them. If there is an ally there, they should know that laughter hurts more than words. Don’t laugh. But the kid being bullied needs to stay strong and not react.
You have openly admitted that there was a time when you thought about taking your life. If someone that you knew or was mentoring felt the same way, what is your advice to them?
Mental illness is becoming an epidemic. There are resources available and help that is available so that you can find a support system. Don’t hide your illness – people are there for you and want to help. How can they not want to? Part of the issue is that mental health isn’t visible so people can’t always see your struggle. You have to be open, then people can support you.
Image courtesy of Brock McGillis
Many kids do not grow up in a household where they will be accepted if they are LGBTQ+. How can they get help when they don’t have at-home support? How can you get the courage to come out if you don’t know how people will react?
Pick your spot when you come out. You know your surroundings and what you are dealing with. Come out when it’s feasible for you to move on, when you can be independent, not when there is the danger of you getting kicked out of the house. You will feel better when you accept yourself. You have to love yourself. I love being a gay man. I want people to be clear and hear that. Once you love yourself, you can withstand hate. But some people just need time. We expect people to be OK with everything the minute that we come out. We’ve had years to think about this, they haven’t Some people just need time.
I read a quote of yours that was heartbreaking. It was something to the effect of “…how badly I wanted approval in a world that did not approve of me.” What do you say to someone who feels exactly the same way?
You don’t need approval, you have to approve of yourself. It’s all internal. When I starting approving of myself, it empowered me. I stopped caring about what others thought. You have to accept yourself. Seeking acceptance from others implies a hierarchy. No one is above or below anyone else. We don’t need to accept others, and others don’t need to accept us.
What is the toughest question that any young person has asked you and how did you answer it?
It was actually at the second school that I spoke at – I was fresh into this, there were about 1,000 students. There was a kid that had this arrogance about him, and his question out of everything that I was saying about my experience of coming out was “What about in the showers. Isn’t it awkward for you and your teammates?” I wasn’t reactionary, but I wanted to send a message. I asked him if had siblings and a sister, and he said yes. I asked if he played hockey, he said yes. We are taught in hockey that we are all a family, all brothers, right? Again the answer was yes. Finally, I asked him if finds his sister hot and he turned beet red. The whole school cheered. I used the moment to inform and educate him while taking him down a peg. I’m still in touch with him today and have mentored him in hockey.
How can we help as allies?
You can help in a number of ways. You can start by being a shoulder for someone and showing that you care. Voice your support for either a person being bullied or the LGBTQ+ community. Some people show their support by going to Pride an marching or by going to a rally.
Other ways are more simple. Treat everyone as an equal and help encourage openness by not being judgmental. I like to say that normal doesn’t exist, we are all weirdos in our own way. Having a discourse with someone that is struggling is always helpful. It can also be a grassroots initiative by an individual to help create awareness. Allies need to stand up, engage and educate.
Image courtesy of Brock McGillis
Do you ever see hockey truly being integrated with makes and females playing on the same professional team?
It’s a difficult equation in professional hockey. Men and women are built differently and it would be hard for a woman that is 5’1 to withstand hits from a man that is 6’7. Goal tenders aren’t required to get involved in that level of fighting, so that may work. I want the best players regardless of gender or sexuality. I just think physiologically it may be more difficult for women. It really is about the best players though – period.
My Take – I was curious about how a pro hockey player would answer this question. Before all you women out there get all up in arms, think about it for a minute. I’m not an expert, but from what I understand, women’s hockey doesn’t allow checking – it would add another dimension to their game. If you think about it objectively, and you compare just on size alone, Brock has a very good point. Maybe one day there will be women players in the NHL, then again, but maybe there won’t. Either way, women can still play and participate.
Finally, as time is passing, we can’t forget about the children who have been touched by Humboldt tragedy. What message do you have for them?
One of the survivors said, ” I haven’t cried and I won’t cry. I’m a tough Canadian guy.” Man, you need to cry, you need to grieve. No one will judge you and if they do, to hell with them. It’s so sad, and people will be mourning for a long time. It won’t change overnight. Hockey is Canadian culture and Canada is hugging you right now, holding you up. We are all your support system and that won’t go away.
My last thoughts: In September, 1995, Hillary Clinton stated the following “…let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all,”. We are at a point where we have to recognize that LGBTQ+ rights are human rights and LGBTQ+ rights are human rights. We are living in a world right now where hate is, once again, becoming permissible. In Russia, it’s OK to discriminate openly against gay men and women. In the Middle East, gay men are marched off of roof tops to their deaths. Gay men and lesbian women are forced into unwanted sex changes in Iran in order to be with the person that they love. In North America, LGBTQ+ kids continue to be bullied on a regular basis and that frustration sometimes can lead to suicide. It was an honour to speak with someone who is so passionate about helping kids in this community and is actively seeking to mentor them.