By Lidia Abraha
Ryerson’s women’s varsity soccer team invited former NWHL player Harrison Browne to their annual charity event, where many gathered together to celebrate the inclusion of LGBTQ+ members in sports.
The team raised money for the 519, a local LGBTQ+ community centre. Browne, who is the first openly transgender athlete to play in any pro athletic team, was invited to share his story with the audience.
“You can take my story that started out in a sports vacuum, and make it into something much bigger than sports,” Browne said to the crowd in a ballroom at the historic 519.
“If one person can hear my story, see my face and doesn’t feel so uncertain about transgender people then I’m doing my job.”
The event raised $10,000 for the 519 which will be used to continue providing services and outreach to the LGBTQ+ community.
Through 26 staff-led services and programs, they have led over 100,000 program participants to our programs every year. Allowing more than half a million people through our doors in 2018 alone, according to Will Webb, the fundraising coordinator at the 519.
Alex Rodkin is one of the leaders of the women’s varsity soccer team and a third-year social work student at Ryerson. After spending her placement at the 519, she used this opportunity to help raise money for the centre.
“Homophobia and transphobia have escalated in sports, so it’s important to start raising awareness around that and start realizing that a lot of the time teams or opponents aren’t accepting of people who are part of the LGBT community,” said Rodkin. “I think it’s important to start raising awareness on that in order for everyone to feel included.”
Every varsity team is required to do one team initiative, and this year they decided to hold this event for the 519.
“We still have a long way to go,” said Elisa Lapadula, a co-leader for the women’s varsity soccer team. “I think starting off with this fundraising event, will definitely shine a light on other teams to consider doing events similar to this in the future and shining a light on social factors in society.”
According to a study done in 2015, 81 per cent of Canadians experienced or witnessed homophobia in sports. Rodkin said she personally witnessed homophobia at a recent game in Ottawa where her teammate was called a derogatory name by a member from the opposing team.
“Although we’re playing against each other and we’re both trying to win, you never want to bring something like that into a game,” said Rodkin. “If anyone on that girl’s team identifies as [LGBTQ+] we know that she’s not fully accepted on her team.”
The 519 has been running social and community services for over 40 years. They are located in a few blocks from campus in the village.
“Everyone knows what sports inclusion means. Everyone knows that LGBTQ is amazing, but I don’t know how many people have seen a first-hand account of a trans athlete and how inclusion helped them excel in sports and be the best that they can be,” said Browne before stepping on stage to share his story with the crowd.
“[Even if] they’re not going through it themselves, but they could keep it in the back of their minds that a teammate may be going through that and it’s a great way to learn how to be there from somebody on a personal level.”