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Gold medallist Ben Rutledge speaks against homophobia

Qmunity's ninth IDAH breakfast addresses homophobia in sports

Cory Oskam (front, with Qmunity ED Dara Parker) says the vice-principal of his high school told his classmates that if anyone has a problem with him as a transgender person, they'll have to transfer because "we're a school of acceptance." Credit: James Loewen photo

Hundreds of queer people and their allies attended Qmunity’s ninth annual International Day Against Homophobia (IDAH) breakfast at the Fairmont Hotel, May 17. This year’s theme was homophobia and transphobia in sports.

“As a parent of a transgender teenager, there are some conversations you’re just really not ready for, like, ‘What size packer should I buy?’ or ‘Where do I find a really good binder?’ or, my personal favourite this year, ‘Mom – what’s a strap-on?'” Nicole Seguin told the audience.

Seguin’s 16-year-old son, hockey player Cory Oskam, made headlines when he skated onto the ice alongside his hero, goalie Cory Schneider, at a Canuck’s game on his birthday earlier this year.

After the game, Oskam publicly came out to his teammates and the world in an article on canucks.com. He says his teammates’ support has been unwavering.

“We’re all heroes on our own journey, but heroes can’t do it alone. They need help,” Oskam says.

He credits Qmunity and the Vancouver School Board for their support, which, he says, were immensely valuable in easing his transition.

Oskam says the vice-principal of his high school, Britannia Secondary, told his classmates that if anyone has a problem with him as a transgender person, they’ll have to transfer because “we’re a school of acceptance.”

“We need to embrace the spaces outside the box,” Oskam told the audience.

Oskam now speaks at schools in the district and helps the school board’s anti-homophobia and diversity mentor, Maria Foster, educate students on trans issues.

While Oskam uses male pronouns, he says he has always considered himself gender fluid and, after doing a lot of research on gender, has identified as all genders.

“More than anything,” he says, “I am happy.”

Mayor Gregor Robertson thanked Qmunity for all its work before proclaiming May 17 International Day Against Homophobia in Vancouver.

“We’re making progress here in Vancouver, but there’s a lot more to do,” he said.

“It’s important to feel good about who you are and feel comfortable in your own skin,” said Anita Braha, from Vancity, which has sponsored Qmunity’s breakfast since its inception.

When professional athletes such as basketball player Jason Collins come out, it makes room for other queer athletes, Braha said, encouraging everyone present to “come out, if you can, and when you can.”

UBC’s interim director of athletics, Dr Louise Cowin, was the event’s first keynote speaker. She shared several stories from her youth about the discrimination she experienced at the Commonwealth Games because of her non-gender-conforming appearance. She believes the world of athletics still has a long way to go before it’s a queer-friendly place.

“Many LGBTQ people have to hide or closet themselves in order to play,” she says.

To address homophobia and transphobia in sports effectively, Cowin says, UBC needs to go beyond the inclusion of sexual orientation/gender identity in anti-harassment policy because “policy and human experience are not in alignment.”

“Change needs a champion, but leaders at all levels need to be committed to change,” she says.

Olympic gold medallist Ben Rutledge gave a comparatively short but profoundly emotional speech. He began by saying that in his athletic career, only three things have really mattered: working hard toward constant improvement, believing in a common goal as a team, and surrounding yourself with people who believe in the same things as you.

He pointed out that race, gender and sexuality had no factor in any of those.

However, near the end of his speech, he nearly brought himself to tears.

“I definitely know in my university career there were gay athletes and . . . I’ve definitely been a part of the wrong side,” he said as his voice cracked. He had to pause before continuing, “But I’m here today to stand up and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”