Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, dropped the ceremonial puck before the New York Rangers played the Washington Capitals in a Pride Night game at the Garden.
"Tonight is about visibility, tonight is about inclusivity, and tonight is about creating a welcoming environment for all athletes," said David, who is the first black person to lead the largest LGBTQ advocacy group in the United States.
Kristin Bernert, executive vice president, Sports Operations for the Madison Square Garden Company, said she couldn't think of a better way, or person, to kick off the festive evening.
"Symbolism is important," Bernert said. "The puck drop is the start of the game, the place where 'the battle,' so to speak, begins. So yes, having a leader from the community drop the puck on Pride Night is important to us."
The puck drop was part of a busy day at the Garden that celebrated the LGBTQ community. The stadium's external lights were aglow in rainbow colors during the game.
Rangers players used sticks in warmups that were autographed and wrapped in rainbow-colored Pride Tape.
The sticks are being auctioned via Fanatics with the proceeds going to You Can Play, a nonprofit committed to supporting the LGBTQ community and combating homophobia in sports.
The auction began Thursday night and runs through March 12. Information on the auction can be found at NYRangers.com.
Members of the New York City Gay Hockey Association scrimmaged before the NHL game, with former Rangers defensemen Ron Greschner and Tom Laidlaw serving as honorary coaches.
"It was just an incredible feeling," said Rachel Donner, a forward and NYCGHA board member. "The Rangers have been so open and welcoming and to have us to be able to do this skate, it's not something they would do for anybody."
The first 10,000 fans in attendance received rainbow-colored scarves and the New York City Gay Men's Chorus performed the national anthem.
"Pride Night at MSG is not only an opportunity to light up the Garden in rainbow colors, it's not only an opportunity for the president of the Human Rights Campaign to drop the ceremonial first puck," David said. "It's really a time for the NHL and Madison Square Garden to tell LGBTQ athletes that they matter, to tell LGBTQ athletes that they belong, particularly because we know in the sports arena LGBTQ athletes have had challenges."