Lyndsey Fry wants everyone to feel free to be who they are.
Fry, who married her girlfriend, Emily, in February, remembered the difficulty of coming out when she opened up about her sexuality in her late teens.
"There was this picture of what life was supposed to look like, and me being gay didn't quite fit into that picture," Fry said. "Different people in my life kind of struggled with it at first; it just took them a while to re-paint that picture."
Fry, a Coyotes executive, broadcaster and chair of the Coyotes' diversity and inclusion committee, commented on her experiences in connection with the team's inaugural "Pride Night" Wednesday at Gila River Arena, 6 p.m., against the Minnesota Wild.
"This is really about us opening our hearts as an organization and saying, 'Look, this is an initiative we want to support forever, and we want to do it well,'" Fry said. "We're not going to do everything perfectly on 'Night One,' but this is a step in the right direction."
As a gesture, players will use rainbow tape on their sticks during pre-game warm-up. Additionally, a quartet from the Phoenix Gay Men's Chorus will sing the National Anthem, and "Pride Night" merchandise will be available at The Den, the official team store.
Six prominent LGBTQ+-serving organizations in the Greater Valley will be showcased in-game. They are: Equality Arizona, ONE Community, Phoenix Pride, Southwest HIV, Aunt Rita's Foundation and one*n*ten.
In September, the Coyotes officially endorsed ONE Community's UNITY Pledge, an oath signifying support of full inclusion and equality in employment, housing, and public accommodations for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTQ+) individuals and their allies. You can join the team in signing the pledge at openaz.com.
"We've dipped our toes in a little bit in the past by doing broader "Hockey is for Everyone" nights," said Fry, a Harvard, Team USA and Olympics alumnus. "The only nod the LGBTQ+ community would really get is the pride tape on the sticks of the guys for warm-ups, and that's it. We've always been a little hesitant, and it's nice to see us be fearless in that way of, 'Hey, this is what we stand by and believe in.' I know it is, because I've always felt fully supported by this organization.
"Let's do it, let's not apologize for anything, let's do this and do it right," she said.
Fry is thankful that women's hockey provided her a safe space and believes that the women's side of the sport is further along regarding inclusion. She thinks the men's game has a way to go.
Fry notes that it is naive to think that there are no gay men playing professional hockey.
Then she added: "I just don't think the men's side of the game is a safe enough place yet for them. I've had a couple of gay men in my life who didn't come out until after their youth hockey career was over because they didn't feel safe to talk about it in the locker room. You think about some of the words that get thrown around in youth hockey locker rooms. Imagine how a gay teammate might have felt, or who may have decided to quit because they didn't feel like they could be who they were without being bullied or rejected."
A lot of the progress must be nurtured at the youth level, noted Fry, President of the Kachinas Girls' Hockey Association. She is proud to be a leader regarding youth hockey inclusion.
Fry commends the Coyotes - and the rest of the league - for creating and supporting initiatives on topics such as mental health, but feels more can be done when it comes to advocating for -- and normalizing -- gay players in the sport.
She believes players have a huge impact in these matters, citing Coyote Jakob Chychrun as a mental health awareness spokesman.
"Everything he went through after losing his cousin to suicide -- it just brings so much more of an impact when our guys talk about it," Fry said.
"I think at the professional level we can be champions, we can start conversations," she said. "But I do think that it really comes down to changing the culture of the locker room on the boys and the girls side in the youth space. The more you can change that, it's going to develop a future generation that thinks differently. Those kids are going to grow up in those safe spaces."
A number of Coyotes players and executives will address inclusion during in-game video appearances.
Noted Fry: "Having our players and our alumni getting on camera and saying, '(LGBTQ+) is a non-issue for me.' 'Everybody's welcome.' 'We love anybody who wants to play the sport.' 'I would gladly be in a locker room with a gay teammate, and this is important for me to talk about.' That's huge."
As for "Pride Night" specifically, Fry said: "In the past, it's always been, 'We'll dip our toe in the water, we'll kind of nod our heads at that community, but we're not going to go all in.' I don't know if it was us being nervous about fan reactions or what it was, but I think us going all in and deeming this night, 'Pride Night' -- I think that's something for the LGBTQ+ community. They see, 'Oh, okay, I am welcome in hockey.
"The fact that we're having "Pride Night," Fry said; the fact that we're having this conversation:
Lead Photo Credit: Kelsey Grant - Arizona Coyotes // Second Photo Credit: Kelsey Grant - Arizona Coyotes // Third Photo Credit: Kelsey Grant - Arizona Coyotes // Fourth Photo Credit: Kaci Demarest - Arizona Coyotes // Footer Photo Credit: Kelsey Grant - Arizona Coyotes