By Ilyas Hussein and Daniella Lopez
The Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) Bold varsity sports teams each showed their support for the 2SLGBTQIA+ community through a series of Pride Night games this past weekend during Trans Awareness Month at the university.
The events took place at the Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC). Over the course of two days—Nov. 17 and 18—the festivities included teams wearing Bold Pride-themed t-shirts for the basketball and volleyball teams as well as rainbow-coloured Pride stick tape for the hockey teams. The department also partnered with members of the community.
“TMU’s department of Athletics & Recreation is committed to creating spaces that are free of harassment, discrimination, homophobia and transphobia,” said Louise Cowin, the Executive Director of Athletics and Recreation in an emailed statement to The Eyeopener. “In hosting a department-wide Pride celebration and re-stating our commitment to 2SLGBTQ+ inclusion, we aim to foster a culture where folks of all sexual orientations and genders feel valued, included and celebrated.”
TMU has only hosted two Pride Night games in its history. Both of them occurred last year when the volleyball programs coordinated the night for their games on Feb. 4.
Lhexen Rabit and Jyoti Ruparell, players from last year’s men’s and women’s volleyball teams respectively, helped coordinate the event. However, both players graduated from the school following the end of last season and are no longer on the teams.
Yet, as a result of last year’s successful event, the university brought it back on a much broader scale this time around, now involving other varsity sports teams as well.
“We know that sports have historically been an unwelcoming place for 2SLGBTQIA+ people, and we recognize our responsibility to educate, advocate and actively build a culture of inclusion,” Cowin’s statement also reads.
In April, the United States House of Representatives passed the Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act, which prohibits trans athletes from women’s and girls’ sports at federally funded institutions. The bill is not expected to pass in Senate, according to Reuters.
Meanwhile, 65 per cent of Canadian citizens believe homophobia is more common in Canadian sports than in the rest of their society according to a 2015 study by Out on the Fields on homophobia in sport. Additionally, 70 per cent of participants in the study believe youth sports are not welcoming or safe for lesbian, gay and bisexual people. The study characterized people in youth sports as anyone partaking in sport under the age of 22.
Recently in professional sports, the National Hockey League (NHL) banned the use of coloured stick tape to represent social causes in games and practices on Oct. 5. Two weeks after the ban on coloured stick tape, the league reversed their decision.
This came after the NHL announced this past June that teams were no longer allowed to wear “specialty” jerseys during warmups, practices or games following several controversies in the 2022-23 season. Commissioner Gary Bettman cited it as a “distraction.”
After their win over the Royal Military College Paladins on Nov. 18, the TMU women’s volleyball head coach Dustin Reid said, “There aren’t many more important social issues than the understanding that you can love anybody and understanding that being a human offers human rights,” regarding the importance of Pride Night.
TMU men’s basketball head coach David DeAveiro echoed Reid’s sentiment.
“We need to learn to respect everybody for who they are and what they believe in,” said DeAveiro following their win on Nov. 18 over the University of Toronto (U of T) Varsity Blues.
For TMU, the festivities kicked off with the men’s hockey team taking on the Carleton Ravens on Nov. 17. Several players wore the rainbow-coloured stick tape during warmups before switching to their regular stick tape during the game.
However, two players—third-year forwards Kyle Bollers and Elijah Roberts—also wore the Pride-themed tape during the 5-3 win over Carleton.
Bollers, who took off the tape after the first period, admitted that he used it for a family member who is part of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community and wanted to show his “love and care” for that person.
“I took it off in the second and third but I wanted to at least use it for one period to show her that I care about her,” he said after the game against the Ravens.
The other five Pride Night games were held on Nov. 18.
The first game of the day was the women’s basketball matchup against the Varsity Blues. Each player wore the Pride-themed shirts during warmups and some players on the bench kept them on throughout the game. Others, who took it off during the game, put the shirts back on after their win over the Varsity Blues.
One of those players was second-year guard Jayme Foreman, who is pleased the athletics department is taking more initiative regarding these events.
“The athletic department has been doing a better job having [these issues] be in the conversation. I think sometimes Pride and different things can be lost since it’s like ‘oh, we’re so focused on winning our games’ but I think always being aware of it [is important],” said Foreman following their win over U of T on Saturday.
However, the men’s basketball team didn’t follow in the same direction as their women counterparts.
On the same afternoon that members of the men’s basketball staff wore Pride-themed warm-up gear, all of the players opted not to participate in the festivities. Instead, they wore their regular yellow TMU-branded shirts during the warmups and the game.
“We wanted to give everybody a personal choice to think about what the shirt represents,” said DeAveiro. “I’m not one to make people do anything they don’t want to in terms of choices.”
The athletic department believes that it is in the individual’s right to choose to be involved in the Pride Night festivities or not. However, they also reiterate that the lack of participation from players is not reflective of the department’s principles.
“TMU Athletics and Recreation will not force participation in this department-wide Pride game initiative, and we understand there may be student-athletes who choose not to take part,” read Cowin’s statement to The Eye.
“While we respect each student-athlete’s choice, we also acknowledge that the choice to opt out runs counter to the department’s values, and could have an impact on TMU Bold community members. We will respect an individual’s right to choose, while standing behind the importance of this initiative as a department,” the statement also read.
DeAveiro added that he appreciates the athletic department for hosting the event to give people a chance to learn more about the 2SLGBTQIA+ community.
“It’s that constant education of people who just don’t know,” said DeAveiro. He said events such as this help to educate others, “exposing and educating them to what’s going on in the real world.”
DeAveiro also noted that it was “easy” for him to put on the shirt and represent the diverse culture at TMU. He hopes that his decision to wear the shirt invokes inspiration for his players to follow suit in the future.
“I think when they see their leader wearing the shirt and supporting that next time when they have to make a decision, maybe they’ll think twice,” he added.
In the TMU women’s hockey game, several members of the team wore the rainbow-coloured stick tape throughout their 3-2 loss against the Western Mustangs on Saturday.
Following their Pride Night game on Saturday, Emily Baxter—fourth-year forward and team captain of the TMU women’s hockey team—said, “I think sports in the past haven’t been very inclusive. On our team especially, we try to be as inclusive as possible, so it was really great to be a part of a night like that and just be inclusive with the team and community.”
TMU women’s hockey head coach Lisa Haley appreciated the opportunity to represent the 2SLGBTQIA+ community and participate in the team’s first-ever Pride Night.
“In our own locker room, there’s a lot of diversity in how we socially locate as a group,” she said. “[There’s] no doubt in my mind that it means a lot to all of our players that identify differently than being cisgender and all of us who are allies as well. We’re all very happy to have that logo on our chest today.”
For the volleyball squads, all active roster players wore the Pride-themed shirt in both games.
The impact of the festivities was clear. The women’s and men’s volleyball teams partnered with the Toronto Spartan Volleyball League (TSVL), “a not-for-profit organization dedicated to safe, social and fun volleyball for the LGBTQ+ community and its allies,” reads the website’s mission statement.
Both bleachers stayed open for the volleyball games, which usually isn’t the case. Flags and signs with rainbow paraphernalia were hung up on the bleachers and helped fill the court with positive energy.
Fourth-year women’s volleyball player Ashley Ditchfield said, “It’s a really special environment to play in and I think it’s really nice to have an athletic department that supports this community.”
The buzz in the building was propelled by the appearance of drag queen Renona.
Renona—who was hyping up the crowd and handing out folding fans to spectators throughout the women’s game—said she has always been a fan of TMU’s teams, in an interview with The Eye.
“[Pride Night] allows people to not feel like they have to hide and show that they can play volleyball regardless of their gender or sexual identity,” she said.
Despite some players opting out of participation and the future of these events remaining unknown, the festivities as a whole were regarded as a success. From the positive atmosphere during the games to the showcase of greater inclusivity in sports, this past weekend was a prideful one at the MAC.
“I think the most important thing with these types of nights is the visibility and the ability to show people that everybody is welcome and there is a seat at the table for everyone,” said Renona.
With files from Todd Ash-Duah, Noah Curitti, Kaden Nanji, Rob Vona and Alex Wauthy