Athletes to speak at Burnaby forum on homophobia in sport
Scott Heggart was living amid a “haze of nerves” for an excruciating few days waiting and bracing himself.
At age 17, Heggart had just come out on Facebook.
He hadn’t had a Facebook page up until then because he didn’t want to lie about his sexual orientation or leave it blank. But, having started a great new relationship, it gave him the confidence to tell the world, or at least his teammates and schoolmates, that he is gay.
The problem was, it took a few days for people to notice his Facebook status.
Then Heggart got a text message from a hockey teammate.
It read: “I heard the news and I’m proud of you.”
That was followed by a string of messages, all of them positive.
Heggart breathed a sigh of relief.
Now 20, the University of Ottawa communications student will be bringing his message of hope and anti-homophobia to Michael J. Fox Theatre on March 28 at 7 p.m. He’ll speak as part of a panel of gay and lesbian athletes sharing their coming-out stories at a free public forum put on by You Can Play Burnaby, discussing homophobia in sports.
The event is part of continuing efforts by the Burnaby Teachers’ Association (BTA) to make sure Burnaby school district’s anti-homophobia policy 5.45 doesn’t “become a document that just sits at the back of someone’s filing cabinet,” said the BTA’s Frank Bonvino.
Bonvino noted that while society has come a long way in accepting homosexuality, no professional athletes in hockey, baseball, basketball or soccer have come out as being gay while playing. You Can Play promotes the idea that sexual orientation shouldn’t matter when it comes to sports, and that it’s all about treating people with respect.
Heggart found that out only after several years of withdrawing from what had been a fairly active social life.
He said he realized he is gay when he was about 13 years old. While he believed his family would be supportive, he decided friends, classmates and teammates would not, so he said nothing to anyone.
“I started to withdraw and try to make myself straight. I spent the next year of my life mentally punishing and abusing myself for thoughts and feelings I couldn’t control. It was a very dark time.”
When he hit bottom, he decided to tell his sister. It helped. That was followed by telling his brother and parents who were all, as he suspected, extremely supportive.
“It was their support and their acceptance that led me to accept it and really brought me out of that time.”
But Heggart was still afraid to let others know. He withdrew from social activities and most sports, except hockey, which he loved too much. At home, he could be himself, but outside the house, he was constantly watching what he said or did to avoid coming across as gay.
“As far as affecting my athletics, it certainly led to me not playing [sports] as much as I would have liked,” he said of his pre-coming out days.
Ironically, when he finally come out, little changed. Heggart, who now only plays rec hockey to focus more time on school, noted that he fully came out in the hockey off-season, so teammates had about six months to process and get used to the idea.
Nonetheless, he had a “ton of nerves” just before the start of hockey season “but what happened was absolutely nothing changed,” he said.
“The only thing that changed was that whenever somebody said ‘fag’ or something like that in the locker room it would be followed by a pause and then a ‘I’m sorry Scott’ then continued the conversation,” he said with a laugh.
At the time the language didn’t bother him, “I was on a positive high,” but looking back he knows how much those words hurt when he was still in the closet.
Then again, Heggart said, many of the guys who would make homophobic comments about the competing team or the referee were the same ones who had sent him such positive messages when he came out.
“It really showed me that homophobia is often more a sign of a bad habit than an actual homophobic person,” he said, adding it can be dangerous to make such comments to an actual extreme homophobe lest they see you as an ally.
That said, all it takes to give the locker room a more welcoming atmosphere is for people to “remove a couple [homophobic] words from your vocabulary and you’re 90 per cent there.”
Other speakers at the Burnaby event include Angela Hucles, a former U.S. national team soccer player, and Jordan Goldwarg, a NCAA Division 1 skier. The forum will be moderated by “straight ally” Marco Iannuzzi, BC Lions wide receiver.
Admission is free but seating is limited. RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more more about You Can Play
The website lists its Mission Statement:
You Can Play is dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation.
You Can Play works to guarantee that athletes are given a fair opportunity to compete, judged by other athletes and fans alike, only by what they contribute to the sport or their team’s success.
You Can Play seeks to challenge the culture of locker rooms and spectator areas by focusing only on an athlete’s skills, work ethic and competitive spirit.