Vulgar Opinions: NHL Teams Well Positioned To Ensure LGBT Fan Safety
On Friday May 31st, I sent some variation of the following letter to 29 NHL teams, having already sent a similar note to the Sabres:
To Whom it may Concern,
I’m a longtime _____ fan and one who has the fortune of being able to move back into the area next season. As you can imagine, my life now is much different than it was in my childhood. I am a gay individual with a transgender partner, and while the NHL has made massive advances in terms of tolerance, not to mention the ___ with __(player)__’s participation in the You Can Play Project, there are still things that concern me.
Recently there was an incident where a gay couple was assaulted outside Madison Square Garden. I’m curious as to whether or not the __(Arena)__ staff has training in how to recognize and respond to incidents motivated by sexual orientation bias. With a transgender partner, I’m ALSO curious if the _____ staff is aware of what gender bathroom my partner should use by _____ law or _____city ordinances. I assume that the _____ are fully able to provide an entertaining and safe atmosphere, but with the current cultural landscape you can understand my concerns.
I decided to assume the persona of a longtime fan for a couple reasons. I didn’t want this to be about teams putting on their best face for a reporter, even an amateur one (who really prefers not to identify with that term anyway). I wanted to reach out in a way that was heartfelt enough to encourage a response, but easy enough to ignore so that I could see what teams would actually do out of the kindness of their own hearts (and the thoroughness of their policies) and not just to save face for public relations purposes.
I also wanted the question to be an easy one to answer. Certainly when asked whether one can be confident in their personal safety, any good head of Arena Operations should respond with an immediate and emphatic yes. With that in mind, I thought it likely I would receive a variety of positive responses with which I could write a generally positive article. I was essentially setting teams up to succeed because being negative all the time gets extremely tiring.
There were a few teams whose responses stood out above the rest, those being the New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers, and Phoenix Coyotes.
The Philadelphia Flyers called me within about five minutes of sending my e-mail detailing the security measures that are in place, and their willingness to talk further on the matter to reassure me personally.
The New Jersey Devils representative also called, leaving a long voicemail doing the same and also provided a direct line to his office and his personal e-mail address. (Author’s Note: I ended up talking to their rep. for about an hour, he was unbelievably sweet and understanding.)
The Vancouver Canucks’ representative also provided a personal phone number and e-mail address, assured me of their vigilance (not surprising considering Cory Schneider took the ice with a transgender high school goalie for the anthems once this season) and encouraged me to get back in touch with them after attending a game.
The Minnesota Wild and also reached out with a phone call, although I have been unable to get in touch with them in three tries to discuss the matter further.
The Florida Panthers did not give me a personal phone call, but their Arena head Matt Sacco did exchange e-mails with me along with forwarding me to the BB&T Center Building General Manager even though his out of office reply indicated that he was out of the country and on vacation.
The Phoenix Coyotes though, were perhaps most impressive among the phone responses. Their head of Arena Operations Jim Crann didn’t call me until Monday morning, but that was because he spent his own time Sunday evening personally researching Arizona state law in regards to transgender individuals. We had a long, and engaging conversation on the topic, and judging by the thoughtfulness and warmth of their front office, it’s a shame more Arizonians aren’t Coyotes fans.
Among the e-mail responses, the Washington Capitals perhaps said it best:
I am the Director of Guest Relations for the Verizon Center and I received your email from the Washington Capitals Guest Services Department. Guest Relations Team Members are trained to ensure the comfort of all guests visiting the Verizon Center. If an issue arises with another guest, please see the nearest Team Member or utilize our in house text system for assistance (texts regarding issues can be sent to 69050 using the keyword ISSUE and providing details). All staff have been informed that our policy and DC Ordinance states that transgender individuals use the restroom that corresponds to their expressed gender, not their birth gender.
Please let me know if you have any other questions.
The other teams that responded to me sent the following: (I am leaving out individual names because this is a forum for highlighting teams that are doing things right, not for criticizing them for not doing more.)
Thank you for your email. We are currently looking into the matter. Have a great day.
Calgary Flames Customer Service
Thanks for your inquiry about our staff training relevant to fan on fan assaults. Please be reassured that our staff has received appropriate training on disputes among fans, taunting, general harassment and altercations. Further, they understand that today’s lifestyle has evolved and are completely tolerant to all guests regardless of gender or lifestyle. The PNC Arena has hosted many events over years that draw a diverse audience and I must say we have never had an issue such as the one you referenced below.
As to the restroom protocol, I am not familiar with any NC State Law specific to transgender. I will, however, refer this matter to our attorney for input and guidance.
I sincerely trust that this response puts your mind at ease and you feel comfortable about attending Carolina Hurricanes hockey games.
Should you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to let me know.
Thank you for your feedback, and your patronage as a Columbus Blue Jackets Fan. I, like the rest of the Blue Jackets, are excited to have you at many games this season.
At this time, incidents motivated by sexual orientation bias have not been incorporated into the training for our Guest Services Staff. While we have been fortunate enough not to have encountered any incidents of this nature, your feedback provides the great opportunity for us to discuss, review our training protocols, and continue to improve on them. Patron safety is of the utmost importance to us, and I can assure you this will be a topic of discussion prior to the planning of this year’s training for the Guest Services Staff, as well as our Arena Security staff. With that being said, we strive to create a family-friendly atmosphere and we do not condone intolerance of any kind. Our staff is currently trained to recognize and respond to incidents including, but not limited to, verbal or physical altercations. A major point of emphasis amongst the Arena Management staff is for the Guest Services Staff to be swift in involving the appropriate parties, including management, security, and Officers of the Columbus Police Department, if necessary. Again, this is in effort to create a safe environment for all, and not to let incidents escalate.
Regarding the issue of restrooms, while we do have “family restrooms” that are open to all (not necessarily just those with children), we will utilize our relationship with the Columbus Police Department to ensure that we are up-to-date & operating with the proper protocols, so that we may better serve you, and all guests.
Once again, thank you for sharing your concerns and feedback. I hope I have adequately addressed your concerns, and that you look forward to visiting us at Nationwide Arena. However, if you have further questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me directly.
I apologize for the late reply to your email. Thank you for taking the time to contact us and we are pleased to learn that you will be moving back to Ottawa and hopefully attending some Senators games.
Here at Scotiabank Place our team members are trained in all areas of customer service including sensitivity relating to race, age, and sexual orientation. We do not tolerate any level of abuse or disrespect that may take place between guests. Further to this we promote a safe, fun, and exciting environment for all our guests.
In regards to your question about washroom availability for your partner, I would suggest that your partner use which ever gender washroom they have been using recently in other public facilities (e.g., restaurants, shopping malls, theatres, etc).
I hope this response has been helpful. Thank you again for contacting us Alex. Best of luck with your move back to Ottawa.
We [The Pittsburgh Penguins] would encourage the use the family restrooms. Our security staff is trained to recognize conflict and to provide a positive and safe environment to all of our guests. If there are any problems, we would encourage any individuals to bring the issue to the attention of ushers or guest services representatives.
Thanks for your email.
Our [The Toronto Maple Leafs‘] venue is highly protected and a secure/safe place to attend, regardless of any differentiating factors as you have described. We are absolutely encouraging of all fans to attend our events and hope to see you next season.
There are a number of family bathrooms within ACC that anybody can use. This may be a good option shuold you choose to use these facilities.
Thanks for taking the time to write in and we look forward to seeing you soon at ACC.
Have a great rest of the weekend.
We [The Winnipeg Jets] do have family washrooms on both levels of our concourse for your personal use. Our security do respect every patron that would attend our building.
Regardless of how and when a team chose to respond, I think the above were fantastic responses across the board. It’s comforting to see that there are several teams in the NHL that have chosen to be proactive on LGBT issues instead of simply reactive. That bodes well for all fans.
If you want to leave this article with a warm fuzzy feeling, now is the time to do so.
I can’t speak for the Anaheim Ducks, Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, Montreal Canadiens, Nashville Predators, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues, or Tampa Bay Lightning. They’ve all had a month to respond. I assume their arena staff are professional and adequate, I’m just not sure why they wouldn’t rise to address concerns over safety. Certainly many of those teams have taken other positive steps in support of LGBT, especially the Boston Bruins and San Jose Sharks.
That leaves the Buffalo Sabres. As I said, I had previously asked the same questions, and after three attempts over about a year and a half, I did get a response. This is their e-mail:
Thank you for your email regarding restrooms at First Niagara Center.
We have single- stall unisex or” family” restrooms on each level of the arena.
I hope you will consider visiting us soon.
This individual did not respond to attempts to follow up, but in all fairness, I called their response exactly what it was in my e-mail. At this point I would be remiss if I didn’t give credit to the Sabres, a franchise with an Owner and a President that are striving to create an upper echelon atmosphere in all facets, for finishing 14th at best in something. Rest assured, the fact that they actually (eventually) sent a response means that they probably do it better than someone. When I hear things like “Hockey Heaven,” I feel like that term extends to all facets of the organization, that the people in charge have the goal in mind of being the best at everything. To put it simply, Buffalo is not Hockey Heaven for LGBT fans, (Vancouver, Toronto, and Boston, two teams IN OUR DIVISION are) and there are a lot of them. And we speak with our wallets:
Gay and lesbian consumers – professional athletes or not – are also sports enthusiasts off the courts and fields. In many ways, they’re bigger aficionados than average fans. For instance, adult gay and lesbian Internet users are 11 percent more likely than the average adult online to attend pro sporting events, according to Nielsen, and 7 percent more likely to participate in an adult sports league.
Gay and lesbian adults are 51 percent more likely than the average adult to watch sports-related videos online and 28 percent more likely to boot up their computer to get their sports news. They’re also big fans of fantasy sports, as they’re 39 percent more likely to play fantasy sports online than the average adult Internet user.
It’s in the best interests of any NHL team to be vigilant on these matters, and I’m sure the Sabres, like every other team, are at least adequately prepared based on whatever training they receive. Sure it’s bush league to not respond to safety concerns, but they do have security staff, and those individuals have been given some training. I’d like to think that if my partner were to use the correct bathroom by law, that the incident wouldn’t somehow become his fault in the eyes of the First Niagara Center Staff, but I don’t really know. (And by all means if you haven’t actually trained your staff in this manner Buffalo, feel free to continue inviting a lawsuit.)
But pondering such hypothetical situations takes away from the reason that this is meaningful to me. The Buffalo Sabres, by my place of birth, are my team. That’s why ‘adequate’ isn’t good enough for me. And if Pegula and Black are serious about creating something special, it shouldn’t be good enough for them either…in any area. And in regards to this area, it’s a demographic that is only growing. It’s estimated that 0.3% of adults are transgender, and that’s only what is recordable given the massive stigma regarding transgender individuals. That means that on any given night, it’s not out of the question for there to be 50-60 transgender individuals in the First Niagara Crowd. Unisex bathrooms are a nice thought, but from what I’ve seen, the FNC is not equipped to handle that many people solely with unisex bathrooms, especially when families and the disabled also make use of those facilities.
I want the Sabres to be great on these issues, yes because they’re personal, but because I think blazing trails is something to be proud of. (And I also don’t want the Sabres to be that one organization that screws things up, which seems disturbingly possible.) That’s it, no threats, no hyperbole, no ultimatums, just the one thing that Pegula and Black have elevated in their tenure, disappointment. Disappointment that some of the non-hockey parts of the organization can’t try harder and be better.