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One-on-one with Harrison Browne

Harrison Browne, the first openly transgender professional athlete in a team sport, on his transition and how he continues to advocate for the LGBTQ community

by Clark Brooks @TBLightning / TampaBayLightning.com

Harrison Browne was born in 1993 in Oakville, Ontario, and played for Team Canada (Under 18) at the 2011 IIHF World Women's Championship, appearing in the gold medal game. He went on to play collegiate hockey with the Mercyhurst Lakers and Maine Black Bears. 

Harrison turned pro after college, joining the Buffalo Beauts of the National Women's Hockey League (NWHL) for the 2015-16 season.

Prior to the start of his second season with Buffalo in 2016, he came out as a transgender male, becoming the first openly transgender professional athlete in a team sport. The Beauts would go on to win the league's championship. Harrison had announced plans to retire at the conclusion of the season in order to begin the female-to-male transition process, something he couldn't undertake as an active player due to the ingestion of the necessary hormones being a violation of the league's anti-doping regulations.

However, he opted to delay that decision for a year and joined the Metropolitan Riveters for the 2017-18 season. He hoisted the Isobel Cup for the second consecutive year when the Riveters beat Buffalo to claim the title. After the season, Harrison retired for good in order to continue his gender transition.

Since then, Harrison has kept busy with speaking engagements on behalf of LGBTQ athletes and launched an acting career. He took a few minutes out of his schedule to speak with us. 

CLARK BROOKS: Becoming the first to do anything is a daunting task. Did you research people like Willie O'Ree or Jackie Robinson first?

HARRISON BROWNE: You know, in hindsight that would have been a good idea (laughs). But to be honest, when I did this, it wasn't with the intent of being a pioneer. I didn't even know I was the first. I did it for myself, to be true to my own identity. 

CB: Did you face a lot of hostility when you first came out?

HB: Not really. The only negative pushback I got was from internet trolls, people who considered themselves gatekeepers, misguided defenders of hockey tradition. I guess they felt comfortable as keyboard warriors, hiding behind their computers. And even that was a small percentage of people I heard from. Everyone else was very supportive and encouraging. 

CB: Hockey, fairly or not, has long had a reputation for being the least diverse among team sports. Did that ever make things more difficult?

HB: No, not really. We as a sport are probably not where we need to be in terms of inclusion, but we're heading in the right direction. You look at someone like PK Subban who might be the most prominent player in the NHL. He's skilled, he's entertaining. The fact that a black player is such a fan favorite is a good sign. I think every team in the NHL has a department dedicated to promoting inclusion and all 31 teams host a Pride night now. To see people who look like you represented, or seeing rainbow flags in an arena and players using rainbow tape on their sticks, might not seem like a big deal but it really does mean a lot to people who may have felt left out. And that's good for the sport. 

CB: Are there other efforts being put forth that are helping to move things along?

HB: I really feel that the You Can Play project (https://www.youcanplayproject.org) has done a lot of great things, going back to the first video they put out. And the NHL itself has been very open and accommodating. Like I said, anything that helps people feel included is a positive.

CB: I would imagine you're in high demand  to speak and make appearances this time of year.

HB: Normally, yes, Pride Month is a busy time for me. This year is different obviously, due to so many events being paused or cancelled. This is the first June since I retired that I haven't been swamped. 

CB: Now that you're retired, how much do you miss playing the game?

HB: Surprisingly, not that much. When you do something for so long, it's always going to be a part of you. I miss spending time with my teammates but not the ice. 

CB: There are probably a lot of people who are just now becoming aware of issues facing the LGBTQ community and want to get involved. How can these people become better informed and make themselves available as allies?

HB: Mostly just be aware that LGBTQ people exist, and accept and respect them on their own terms as individuals. A good way to do that is to learn the pronouns by which someone wants to be identified and use those when addressing them. She/he, him/her, etc. List the pronouns YOU want used in your email signatures and social media profiles so people know. Also, look online for local and national LGBTQ organizations. The Trevor Project (https://www.thetrevorproject.org) and the Get Real Movement (https://www.thegetrealmovement.com) are both excellent. There are a lot of really good resources to be found on Twitter and Instagram, too. 

CB: I see you've begun an acting career. After becoming the first openly trans professional athlete in a team sport, I suppose tackling Hollywood will be easy. What's next, space travel?

HB: (laughs) Maybe I'll try to win a Nobel Prize!

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