Darrell Bowden had not been to a hockey game in 35 years. On Thursday night, as the Ryerson men’s hockey team pummeled the Guelph Gryphons 5-0 at the Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC), Bowden was cheering on the home team alongside everyone else.
Bowden is the co-chair of Positive Space Ryerson, a staff and faculty group committed to making Ryerson more inclusive. The group worked with Ryerson athletics to turn Thursday night’s hockey game into LGBTQ night, an event that has been held in the past to give people who do not normally follow sport an opportunity to participate. A DJ played live music, promotional videos featuring Ryerson athletes, and participants were encouraged to mingle in the alumni lounge.
Bowden is Ryerson’s education and awareness co-ordinator and also a member of the LGBTQ community who dropped the puck during the ceremonial faceoff.
“I was talking to my family in Nova Scotia and said, ‘I’m going to the former Maple Leaf Gardens to drop the puck for a hockey game,’” said Bowden. “And I’ve been getting texts all night from my family like, ‘What TV channel are you going to be on? We want to see you with the Leafs.’ I’m like, ‘y’all got it confused!’”
According to Bowden, sports are not something that the LGBTQ community usually thinks about because of the stigma of what happens behind the scenes.
“Hockey has that…heteronormative way of thinking, like ‘man up’ and that kind of stuff,“ said Bowden. “This is a really great opportunity to bring the community to sport.”
Stephanie White, Ryerson’s associate director of athletics, said the original plan for LGBTQ night began before the MAC even opened.
“We sat down and said, ‘what kind of games do we want to host?’” said White. “We really looked at all the different opportunities. I had mentioned at that point that we were really close to what is termed the ‘gay village,’ where there is a strong LGBT community. So I said, ‘really, we are now part of their community.’ Why would we not celebrate that?”
White said she often hears from people who stopped playing sports as children because they felt uncomfortable in the environment. But as adults, they want to understand it more and be a part of it.
“(LGBTQ night) really goes to the core and fabric of Ryerson University,” said White. “It affords people who don’t normally feel comfortable coming to sport to have that opportunity.”
However, events like LGBTQ night are only the beginning of a bigger movement.
“I think hockey is one of those areas where I don’t think we’ve had anybody come out as being gay in the (NHL) yet,” said Bowden. “I’ve seen it in other (professional leagues). But change is happening. All it takes is that one person to make a change and maybe next year we’ll have somebody who is open and playing in the sport.”
However, Bowden is enjoying the changes that have been made in his 35-year absence.
“If hockey had a DJ playing when I was younger,” he laughed. “I probably would have gone to more games!”