TAMPA, Fla. -- Harrison Browne, the first transgender player in professional hockey, has become the role model that he needed when he identified as a she.
"Honestly, I didn't really realize the impact that it would have," Browne told NHL.com during 2018 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend.
Browne plays for the Metropolitan Riveters of the National Women's Hockey League, which adopted the first transgender policy in professional sports to support Browne and all transmen and transwomen.
Browne is serving as a special ambassador during Hockey Is For Everyone month.
[RELATED: Complete Hockey Is For Everyone Coverage]
He was featured as part of the New Jersey Devils Pride Night on Feb. 1 and will join the Florida Panthers for their Pride Night when they play the Los Angeles Kings at BB&T Center on Friday (7:30 p.m. ET; FS-F, FS-W, NHL.TV).
"When I hear Hockey Is For Everyone, I hear hockey is for me," Browne said. "As a transgender individual, as a member of the LGBTQ community, I think that sport is for me. But then I also think about what it means for other people. So, race, any socioeconomic status, anybody can play the sport. There is no judgment. Everybody can feel some sort of inclusion."
Browne has changed his name from Hailey to Harrison. He won't physically transition until his playing career is over because according to the NWHL's policy, which was co-authored with You Can Play, transmen can't undergo hormone therapy and be eligible to play.
"As soon as I take the first dose of testosterone I'm done playing women's hockey," Browne said.
(Photo courtesy of Matt Raney/NWHL)
Browne came out publicly as transgender in 2016 in an article on ESPN.com, the impact of which has changed Browne's life and purpose and has been a game-changer for a portion of the LGBTQ community.
"I think what changed the most was visibility," Browne said. "There is now another minority represented. Everybody talks about the LGBTQ spectrum and that is very prevalent in women's hockey, the lesbian aspect. It's not a new thing. But what is new is being transgender. I think just being visible and knocking down that first door was monumental."
Browne's impact now is that he is no longer the only openly transgender individual in professional hockey. Jessica Platt became the first openly transgender woman playing in the Canadian Women's Hockey League this season.
"And now there's a lot of trans youth that have come out too," Browne said. "Having the first person do that, break down that barrier, has really opened the floodgates."
Browne said he has felt liberated since coming out.
"I didn't realize that it was weighing me down, but being able to hear Harrison and male pronouns at the rink has eliminated this thought, 'I just scored, I'm really happy that I just scored, but now I'm going to have to hear the wrong name on the announcement,' " Browne said. "Now I don't have that thought. Now I can just go out and play freely."
(Photo courtesy of Troy Parla/NWHL)
Browne thought it was time to retire at the end of last season after winning the NWHL's Isobel Cup with the Buffalo Beauts, because he could undergo his physical transition and move on with his life in advocacy off the ice.
He instead realized there was more value in being a player advocate.
"As athletes, we have a huge platform that we need to take advantage of," Browne said. "I'll always be an athlete, but I felt like my message as an active athlete was more important."
His decision to return is reaffirmed during and after each game he plays. For example, Browne saw a young fan in the stands holding up a trans flag during a game against the Boston Pride on Jan. 21.
"He gave it to me after the game," Browne said. "I wouldn't have been able to meet that person and have that interaction if I wasn't playing."
He routinely sees people in the stands wearing his jersey, which he said gives him goosebumps.
"When I retired after last season I realized I didn't give it enough time to meet all of these people," Browne said. "I didn't give it enough time to have an impact on these people.
"Being a trans individual is hard enough as it is, but the world of athleticism and the world of sport, it's very difficult to try to navigate that. I'm glad that I was able to be somebody that I needed when I was younger. Everybody needs somebody."
(Lead photo courtesy of Matt Raney/NWHL)