BUFFALO -- When the Buffalo Sabres host You Can Play night on Tuesday as part of the NHL's Hockey Is For Everyone month, Harrison Browne, a forward for the Buffalo Beauts of the National Women's Hockey League, will take center stage.
On Oct. 7, Browne came out as the first openly transgender player in North American professional team sports, and on Dec. 27, the NWHL announced a transgender policy that "recognizes all forms of gender expression."
Browne, 23, who identifies as male, has become the face of a movement.
"When I first came out, I just wanted to be comfortable, and by changing my name, I would be more comfortable on the ice," Browne said. "I didn't realize the magnitude that it would kind of explode, if you will.
"It's been amazing; I've had a lot of people come up to me after games and want to take pictures of me and message me on my various social medias telling me the impact that I've had. To have a transgender policy out there is amazing. I'm so proud of the NWHL for their initiative in doing that, and I think it's a great step for hockey and sports in general."
Video: Browne on being first openly transgender athlete
As part of You Can Play night, Buffalo will feature Browne in a video played at KeyBank Center during its game against the San Jose Sharks. The Sabres will donate $5,000 to the Gay & Lesbian Youth Services of Western New York and Pride Center of Western New York.
There also will be a public service announcement for the You Can Play Project featuring Sabres captain Brian Gionta, center Ryan O'Reilly, goalie Anders Nilsson and coach Dan Bylsma, and some Sabres will use rainbow Pride Tape on their sticks during warmups.
Hockey Is For Everyone is a campaign of the NHL and the NHL Players' Association to spotlight the League's commitment to diversity and inclusion. The initiative runs through February and is partnered with the You Can Play Project, a nonprofit organization committed to supporting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community while fighting homophobia.
Nilsson, the You Can Play ambassador for the Sabres, has a gay pride flag on his mask.
"I did see that. I thought that was great," Browne said. "It's just great because, yeah, the Hockey Is For Everyone nights are great and the fact that everybody has the Pride Tape and showing their support, but it's good to see that even before then, when everyone starts to do it. It's good to see somebody step up, and I think that he's a great ambassador to have."
The attention Browne has received since coming out has made him a role model for the LGBT community.
"I'm pretty confident with myself, so I knew there was going to be some media attention and I was prepared for it," Browne said. "The [NWHL] PR … did a great job in preparing me, and the You Can Play organization with [vice president] Chris Mosier, him mentoring me at the beginning of the season, just kind of helping me work through answering tough questions or anything like that. I think You Can Play and the league really did step up for me and help me make this year a success."
Browne's landmark decision to come out would have been more difficult if not for support from Beauts coaches Ric Seiling and Craig Muni, who each played for the Sabres during his NHL career, and players, Browne said.
"My teammates knew last year, my first year, that I identified as male, and I wanted to be referred to as Harrison, so it wasn't anything new for them; the coaches knew as well," Browne said. "They did a great job of making me feel comfortable since Year One. They've been great; my teammates have really had my back.
"There's been some new respect, there's always respect between opponents because we're fighting for the game that we love, so there's always that mutual respect for that, but I've also had some opponents tweet at me showing their support and some people during the handshakes have said, 'Good game, Harrison,' so that's been nice as well."