Edmonton Oilers defenseman Andrew Ference has seen the effects of intolerance and the toll it has taken on friends and former teammates over the years, so he will stand in solidarity with them and the entire LBGTQ community when he participates in the Edmonton Pride parade on Saturday.
Ference will ride on a float with members of an Edmonton radio station, and Oilers Vice President of Communications Tim Shipton also will be marching as part of the 'You Can Play' team.
"We have a lot of friends that are part of the LBGTQ community and this is a big week and a celebration for who they are as people," said Ference, who marched in the 2014 parade but missed last year's because he and his family were at the French Open tennis tournament. "Some amazing parents, some friends that we have that we want to come out and support … basically just show our support as allies and show our acceptance of diversity within our community, and it's a good time."
NHL director of player safety Patrick Burke, the son of Calgary Flames president of hockey operations Brian Burke, co-founded 'You Can Play' after his brother, Brendan, who came out as gay and spoke against homophobia in sports, died in a car accident in 2010. "You Can Play" aims to "ensure the safety and inclusion of all in sports -- including LGBT athletes, coaches and fans," according to its website.
Ference has been very active in supporting the cause.
"It's important to make sure that there is vocal support out there," he said. "You see how much that does to move society forward in acceptance. You look at what the Burkes have done with 'You Can Play.' There is a lot of support out there, but it does take people to step forward and be vocal about it and to talk about it to really progress the issue and I think that this is just a small part of that.
"Within sports it can definitely be extremely intimidating for any gay athlete to be in a team sport, especially when they are young, to know if they have acceptance within their own team or not. I personally had friends that I didn't know they were gay until later on in life when they came out of the closet, and to hear their stories ... one story from my close friend about not really being able to be himself his whole childhood. He basically quit hockey because he was scared of not being accepted amongst his friends and teammates.
"It's such a shame that that happened in my own life, so a thing like 'You Can Play' and Pride Tape doesn't seem like a big deal to some people. But I know friends and other people who have come and expressed their support of Pride Tape, and conveyed just how important it is for them to convey that message of support and that message of inclusion of just being a good teammate, no matter your sexual orientation."
Pride Tape is a way hockey players show their support for the LGBTQ community by taping their sticks with multicolored tape. It's another way Ference, who played six games in 2015-16 before season-ending hip surgery, and others have shown their support.
"You don't want to be dismissive about the fact that you are doing these things," he said, "But honestly, for us as a family it is really easy. We show up and support these things, which are great causes. It's easy for us to lose the impact that it has on certain people, just to see people supporting them within the community. It can't be the most comfortable thing in the world to go up to someone you don't know and lay out their family history or the impact it's had in their lives.
"Those are really big moments in people's lives. The importance of acceptance within a team or community plays such a huge role in giving some of these young kids the confidence to be themselves and to know that they will be supported by their friends, by their family, by their team and by the community as a whole."
Ference also is very active in socioenvironmental issues. He is finishing his degree at Harvard University in corporate sustainability and is a partner in Fifth Season Ventures, a venture capital firm that invests in more efficient energy, water and agricultural usage.
"That's turning more into a line of work for me," he said. "Where I'm really trying to push the agenda on sustainability and not only doing well for the environment but doing good things at the same time. ... That's been a big part of my life, but also a big part going forward. I really enjoy meeting some of these companies that are leading the way in that sense."