NEW YORK -- Andrew Ference marveled at the rainbow-colored mass of humanity that flooded midtown Manhattan on Sunday for the 2019 World Pride Parade.
"This is a sign of progress," said Ference, a retired NHL defenseman and the League's Director of Social Impact, Growth & Fan Development. "The city is insane, a massive world parade … people just get it, it's the right thing, it's the proper thing."
Ference was among a large contingent from the NHL and the hockey community that marched along the parade route or rode a double decker bus rented by the NHL and the National Hockey League Players' Association to show their support for the LGBTQ community.
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Ference was joined by former NHL executive Brian Burke and his son, Patrick; Kim Davis, the NHL's Executive Vice President, Social Impact, Growth Initiatives & Legislative Affairs; Dre Barone, a gay referee; Kathryn Tappen of NBC Sports; former NHL forward Kevin Westgarth; members of the Black Girl Hockey Club; Jeff McLean, co-founder of rainbow-colored Pride Hockey Tape; and Brock McGillis, the first openly gay male hockey player.
"I think it's important for the hockey community as a whole to see not only straight allies, not only members of the League, but also that you can be gay and play the sport at high levels and it shouldn't be an eliminating factor for you in your pursuit of a career in hockey," McGillis said.
Participation in the parade was personal for the Burkes. Brian Burke's late son, Brendan, was an openly gay hockey player who died in a car accident in February 2010 at the age of 21, just months after he came out to his family.
Brendan told his family that he would be an advocate for LGBTQ inclusion. Brian and son Patrick Burke have picked up the mantle.
Video: Brendan Burke's Legacy
Patrick Burke, the senior director of player safety with the NHL, co-founded You Can Play, a movement dedicated to making locker rooms and sports venues safe and free from homophobia.
Brian Burke, who served as an executive with the NHL as well as with the Hartford Whalers, Vancouver Canucks, Toronto Maple Leafs, Anaheim Ducks and Calgary Flames, credited professional sports with becoming more open toward the LGBTQ community.
"I think all the leagues have done a pretty good job -- but the NHL, I think, has set the industry standard," he said. "I think it's important that [people] know that hockey is for everyone. You're welcome in our buildings, no matter who you go home with, what church you go to, whatever your sexual orientation is, you're welcome in our dressing rooms."
Brian Burke said he looks forward to the day when people won't have to attend Pride parades.
"My goal is to get to the day where Pride parades aren't necessary," he said, "but I think they are really important right now to celebrate the diversity of our community and celebrate the LGBTQ community."