As some of you are aware, one of my pet projects has been opening a dialogue with the National Hockey League’s Buffalo Sabres in respect to what they could do to reach out to the LGBT community. Recently I made the point that the Sabres could do better in this regard, prompting someone to ask, how? That’s a good question, one I had to take a step back and think about. I don’t like being the type to offer complaints without possible solutions, so here they are.
I should probably start with highlighting what the Sabres have done so far that has impacted LGBT fans. Earlier this year I asked Director of Community Relations Rich Jureller if there was a possibility that the Sabres would join the It Gets Better Project. He informed me that there were no efforts in place, but that they were in the process of partnering with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in producing a PSA aimed at curbing bullying, inspired by the suicide of gay Buffalo teen Jamey Rodemeyer. Updates on how this is progressing have been sparse, though I suspect this is largely due to difficulty in getting the players to sit down and film something with the season still afoot. The question was also posed to Sabres President Ted Black if the Sabres would continue their affiliation with the discriminatory Salvation Army. He promised to look into the matter.
Sabres captain Jason Pominville has also filmed a spot for the You Can Play Project, a creation of Patrick Burke, brother of the late Brendan Burke devoted to curbing homophobia in sports. The Sabres were kind enough to air the spot during intermission of March 14th game versus Colorado, but I have not seen it since. The video was aired during intermission when only a small percentage of the crowd was in their seats to see it.
I want to split this into needs and wants. Some things would be nice to have, but they don’t fit into the bare bones necessities of what the Sabres should be doing to ensure that LGBT individuals feel safe at the First Niagara Center.
Boot the Salvation Army NOW and Make it Public – One of the reasons that Rich Jureller gave for not joining the It Gets Better Project was that they viewed it as exclusionary towards non-LGBT individuals. With that having been said, there are no excuses for the Sabres to still be entertaining any sort of partnership with the Salvation Army. The policy has to go both ways. Otherwise the Sabres show that they’re only committed to protecting their straight fans, not their LGBT fans.
More Transgender Friendly Bathrooms – Transgender individuals, depending on where they are in their transition process, are often at odds with the public restroom choices that are offered. My partner for example has female sex organs, but presents as male. He will soon be taking male hormones. Should he use the Mens or the Womens room? The Sabres would do well to offer more unisex bathrooms around the arena. (There may be some in place already, but I have not noticed them.)
Actually reach out to the LGBT community instead of going just above the bare minimum. Show LGBT individuals that they're not only accepted within the FNC, but wanted. Air the You Can Play spot again and when people can actually see it – come on Sabres, showing the spot only once and during intermission was cowardly. Hold theme nights, partner with LGBT-friendly organizations, promote a culture of tolerance. Pominville's national spot and a watered down PSA on bullying aren't enough. You don't stand for something with a whisper, you do it with a yell. Let LGBT-friendly employees give their take, show off their LGBT friends and family, let people know that there's more than one demographic that watches hockey. Trust me, the service you do your younger fans will far outweigh the older fans you may alienate.