Seattle is known for many things: Jimi Hendricks, coffee, the Space Needle and one day it's new NHL team. The city is also known for its Pride celebration, according to You Can Play director of partnerships and development, Jonas Worth. All the more reason when he first met with NHL Seattle last November, he was adamant the club foster relationships with local organizations.
"I said, 'Look, when we come in, it's not going to be about You Can Play," says Worth. "It's gonna be about the local LGBTQ organizations that you connect with and you [must] have a year-round commitment to them."
You Can Play (YCP) hockey roots run deep. NHL has been an official partner since 2013. What's more, YCP was co-founded by Patrick Burke -- son of former NHL player and long-time NHL executive Brian Burke and brother to LGBTQ advocate Brendan Burke, who died in an automobile accident in 2010.
As the 32nd NHL franchise awaits its first season, it paid heed to Worth's advice and began preparations for Pride Month alongside "Hockey is For Everyone" partner, the Seattle Pride Hockey Association. NHL Seattle staffers marched in the 2019 Seattle Pride parade and hoped to do so again on June 26th. The coronavirus pandemic and incidents of racial injustice have altered those plans.
Although Seattle recently entered Phase 2 of its reopening plan, NHL Seattle and partners will celebrate Pride Month virtually. The recent killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Riah Milton, and Dominique "Rem'mie" Fells motivated introspection and additional programming adjustments.
"We threw away the playbook for Pride Month when Mr. Floyd was murdered," says Worth. "Everyone said enough is enough. We said, 'Let's not tell the stories we normally tell during Pride Month. Let's get the people who are always forgotten in the LGBTQ conversation. Let's get people of color -- especially trans people of color -- on screen telling their stories because we never get to do that."
NHL Seattle's Kyle Boyd agrees.
"This is an opportunity to speak to some of the intersectionality we know exists between sexual orientation, gender identity and race," says Boyd, NHL Seattle director of youth and community development/training. "How identities oftentimes are weaponized and how some groups within a movement might feel even further persecuted beyond just the color of their skin."
Boyd says he hopes the organization can find ways to celebrate specific identities fully, while also discussing ways multiple identities shape one's lived experience. Long-term, Boyd and the franchise are focused on having conversations about intersectionality in Seattle, especially with youth groups. "We're really dedicated to trying to bring that message to the youth hockey community in the local area and trying to figure out, says Boyd. "How do we live and breathe that virtue within our organization?
"Intersectionality" is a term identified 30 years ago by scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, who is a law professor at both Columbia and UCLA. She developed it to demonstrate how people's social identities overlap, including the meeting of multiple-stigmatized or marginalized identities. The term has been politicized in recent years. "This is what happens when an idea travels beyond the context and the content," says Crenshaw.
"These days, I start with what it's not, because there has been distortion," said Crenshaw when asked by a Time magazine reporter in February to explain what the term means in 2020. "It's not identity politics on steroids. It is not a mechanism to turn white men into the new pariahs. It's basically a lens, a prism, for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other. We tend to talk about race inequality as separate from inequality based on gender, class, sexuality or immigrant status. What's often missing is how some people are subject to all of these, and the experience is not just the sum of its parts."
To that end, the switch to a virtual Pride celebration is focused on deeper engagement. What perhaps was proposed as a two-minute video can now become a larger virtual forum where participants are asking questions and sharing ideas. In the long run, NHL Seattle might benefit from such a shift in programming. Like many diverse sports cities, fans in Seattle are lovingly critical, says Worth.
"There's definitely some model organizations out there that are really focused on genuine community connections," he explains. "It matters to people in the Pacific Northwest. Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, and of course the Bay Area fans demand that. If they don't get it right, they're not going to succeed."
Worth believes the commitment of NHL Seattle during the last seven months and in the future will yield positive results, for the city and the team.
"We should have been all marching in the parade together [this month] and I would say that would have been the first of many activations to make sure the local LGBTQ organizations know we're not only just there for them," says Worth. "We want them to be season ticket holders. When members from traditionally underrepresented communities in hockey feel they can go to an NHL Seattle game safely, that is the ultimate experience."