Pride Month spotlight: Harbour Lights promotes game, fun in Australia

This June, the NHL and the joint initiative, Hockey Is For Everyone, are celebrating Pride Month in partnership with the NHL’s You Can Play Project and the NHL Players’ Association. 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 be sharing stories about the LGBTQI+ hockey community. A view of the Harbor Lights Ice Hockey Club in Sydney, Australia today.

Stuart Ridley didn’t know if there were LGBTQI+ ice hockey teams in Sydney, Australia, or if there were even enough players to start one.

When Ridley and his son Dash scoured the internet in 2020 and came across Australian LGBT Ice Hockey, a group based in Melbourne, more than 500 miles southwest, they were surprised to receive a quick reply to their email enquiry: ” We’ve been waiting two years for someone from Sydney to get in touch. We’ll help you start a club.”

In 2021, Ridley co-founded Harbor Lights Ice Hockey Club, the first LGBTQI+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex) club in Sydney and the state of New South Wales. The club promotes diversity and inclusion, offering players of all skill levels a fun and competitive safe space free from judgment and stereotypes.

“For LGBTQI+ people, there’s a certain attitude that we can’t play, that hockey isn’t for us,” Ridley said. “Of course we’re trying to change that.”

Ridley and Carl Jackson, president of Australian LGBT ice hockey and co-founder of Melbourne’s Southern Lights Ice Hockey Club, said their efforts were inspired by the success of North American groups like the Madison Gay Hockey Association in Wisconsin and the New York City Gay Hockey Association, the Chicago Gay Hockey Association and the Montreal Dragons.

“My youngest plays hockey and they’re having a hard time because there’s a lot of discrimination and bigotry that’s kind of because you’re LGBTQI+, because you’re queer, you’re weak or you can’t be trusted or whatever,” Ridley said .

“They wanted to quit hockey, so I started showing them, ‘Here’s what’s happening with Chicago, here’s what’s happening with Madison, here’s what’s happening with NYC, here’s all these amazing groups.’ The more we searched, the more we found.”

Starting a team, especially one that represents a marginalized community, is always a difficult task, but knowing it was done in North America helped fuel efforts to found Harbor Lights. Ridley, with the help of Jackson and others, began posting interest forms on Facebook and Instagram in January 2021. The social media campaign generated 60 replies within a month and a website was created for players to register.

While getting people to sign up was one thing, getting them on the ice in the middle of a pandemic was another.

As some of Sydney’s lockdown rules eased, the manager of Ice Zoo, Ridley’s local ice rink, suggested Harbor Lights throw a party – while observing social distancing rules – followed by a March 2021 hockey game to coincide with the annual gay The city’s gay and lesbian carnival celebration coincides.

“If you wanted to dance to great music and celebrate queer culture, it was at the rink,” Ridley said. “We had drag queens and other artists, some of us DJing. Then we played a game. Some people had played (hockey) before, others had only started playing two months ago.”

Today, Harbor Lights has more than 100 members who play ice and in-line hockey. The club is holding weekly training sessions for novice and experienced players ahead of its Pride Month Invitational on June 25.

Ridley said Harbor Lights attracted several LGBTQ+ players who left the sport years ago because they felt hockey culture was homophobic and dismissive.

Daniel Delisle started skating with Harbor Lights last year after quitting hockey as a teenager on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, about 25 years ago.

“I thought it would be a one-time thing, like a game, but it was so much fun,” Delisle said. β€œIt was so good to be playing again and everything had changed. How it was [a] truly inclusive, supportive environment. It was a great time.”

Ella Licari is a goalie for the Sydney Sirens of the Australian Women’s Ice Hockey League who became the league’s first transgender woman in 2016. She played in the formation of Harbor Lights and wished clubs like this and Southern Lights existed early in her ice hockey career.

“It would have been a lot easier for me,” said Licari, whose partner Alice Buchanan co-founded Harbor Lights with Ridley. “I played at a very high level early on…but I didn’t necessarily feel very safe or welcome in the sport. I was the quiet one in the dressing room. I had no real contact with people. The culture didn’t really suit me, so it was very difficult. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ve ever really been able to be who I am today.

Harbor Lights plans to present itself to the world when it hosts a hockey tournament from February 17 to March 5, 2023 during Sydney WorldPride.

“Our hope is that the more visible (LGBTQI+) hockey players are, the more they play at the highest level, it’s really accepted,” Ridley said.

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