TORONTO -- Morgan Rielly previously took part in Vancouver Pride weekend, so when the opportunity came up to show his support in Toronto this year, he jumped at it.
"I think it's important," the Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman said at the Toronto Pride Parade on Sunday. "It's something we believe in as a team. This is something we feel passionate about."
Rielly, along with Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas and New Jersey Devils forward Kurtis Gabriel, were among those representing the NHL, showing their support for the LGBTQ community as thousands of people made their way through the streets of downtown Toronto.
Dubas said he feels that the Maple Leafs have a responsibility to get involved in the community and to use the platform they have to show support to people who have faced marginalization.
"We're fortunate to work in sports and one of the great fortunes is that lots of people pay attention to it, but that means for us we have to make sure that everybody is included and feels safe doing so," Dubas said. "This is a very proud weekend for us, and we're thrilled to be able to be here and be a part of this. You don't know what's happening with people on your team or the fans of your team, so I think you have to be as inclusive as is humanly possible, every race, every sexual orientation and every gender. It's events like this and being supportive of everybody and making people feel welcomed and safe in the community."
Throughout the past six years living in Toronto since he began his career with the Maple Leafs during the 2013-14 season, Rielly has come to appreciate the incredible diversity in the city and said he wants to make sure he can help contribute where he can.
"That's a part of Toronto that I really love, how diverse it is. The campaign Hockey Is For Everyone is true, not just with hockey but with life," Rielly said. "In all walks of life and job, it's important that inclusivity is relayed. Being in Toronto and getting to live in Canada and be a part of a place as diverse as Toronto is, I think it's important that you are a part of it, involve yourself and embrace Toronto for Toronto and what it's all about."
Gabriel, who is from Newmarket, about 45 minutes north of Toronto, was marching at the parade along with his girlfriend, Karina, and his brother, Iain, in support of their friends Silver and Christina.
When the Devils held their Pride night last season on Feb. 25 against the Montreal Canadiens, Gabriel opted to leave the rainbow tape on the end of his stick the entire game. He ended up scoring the game-winning goal in a 2-1 victory and decided to continue using it throughout the season.
"Everybody started taking it off before the game, and I thought I might as well not even take it off, it would take more effort than to just leave it. So I kept it on and thought it might show some more support for the LGBTQ community," Gabriel said. "My friends Christina and Silver, who I know through my girlfriend, I wanted to show support for them seeing what they've had to go through. I mean it's 2019, it's done, it's over, we don't need to be making people uncomfortable anymore just because they have different sexual orientations. I just think that's so stupid."
Gabriel's friend Christina said his support has gone a long way.
"You don't necessarily think LGBT and sports people go hand in hand, but clearly that is not the case," she said. "You always think of there's a lot of bullying in sports and people are shamed if they come out as gay, but this shows how everyone can be accepted when you have a prominent figure, especially someone we're close with, showing that we accept you and show that you are welcomed here and you're safe."
Gabriel said he hopes continuing to use the tape will make a positive impact, however small it may be.
"Hopefully, kids at the rinks see me using it and maybe asks their parents why and it just starts a positive conversation where if I'm doing it, maybe the kid will think why shouldn't I help out," Gabriel said.
Rielly was wearing a pair of running shoes with a rainbow strip up the middle while marching in the parade. Much like Gabriel with the tape, Rielly said he anticipates continuing to use the shoes in the future, hopeful that even a small gesture will keep making a positive difference.
"When I got to my condo last night when I flew in and there were a couple pairs of shoes waiting for me," Rielly said. "I like them but it's not a one-time event, I think I'll keep wearing them after this."