As part of a series to show the many facets of Philadelphia’s hockey community, the Philadelphia Flyers produced a documentary titled “New Heights: Standing in Sight,” which features LGBTQ+ hockey fans. The Flyers partnered with representatives from the William Way LGBT Community Center, You Can Play, an organization that centers on safety and inclusion in sports, and the New York City Gay Hockey Association.
“The series started with wanting to give voices to those we think need to be heard within our community. And using our platform and resources to do so. Our video group is a small department and we put forth every resource we had for each of these episodes,” explained Lauren Tancredi who is the Flyers Senior Video Editor. “There’s beauty in storytelling and we wanted to be able to show it on screen.”
Sue Gildea, who sits on the William Way Community Center as Co-Chair, is one of the Flyers fans featured in the video. She recounts a story from childhood in which Mass was interrupted by the presiding priest to announce the Flyers were one point closer to the Stanley Cup. Gildea lauds the video as a further act of solidarity with gay fans, and a symbol of continuing inclusion among athletes.
“Everyone deserves a place where they can feel safe and to be their authentic selves. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but they are taking the important first step,” she said. Gildea also looks forward to seeing more gay players in professional sports. “When you are in a game, you are all one team and there for each other. Respect begets respect. Unity and togetherness makes success happen and wins championships.”
That makes sense as Philadelphians, who are known to be very passionate about virtually everything they associate with their beloved metropolis, love to see their teams win. The city’s sports teams are one such area which inspires pride.
Matt Gaffney is a Wallingford, PA native who now lives in New York where he and his partner are heavily involved with the New York City Gay Hockey Association. For him hockey was always a family affair. To them the Chelsea Piers rink they play on is a place to not just hit the ice, but make new friends, hang out, and have a beer or two after their game ends.
“I was first a fan of the Strath Haven Panthers, my brother’s high school hockey team — he’s ten years older than me so I was always obsessed with whatever he was into,” admitted Gaffney who played ice hockey in the 10th annual Paris Gay Games in 2018. “He’s a huge Flyers fan so that ultimately transferred to me too.”
In the video, Gaffney mentioned that he was worried about coming out. His high school classmate Nora Cothren, also featured in the video, mentioned the same. The two kept in touch due to hockey, or as Gaffney said it, “there’s only so many LGBTQ hockey players from the same town.”
Like her childhood buddy Gaffney, Cothren’s love for the game (and the team) started in childhood. She traded hockey cards with friends, and her family began buying season tickets together with other families. She later played hockey with her college alma mater Smith. She opens the video in Passyunk Square, which besides being a lovely spot to film an interview, reflects the diversity now common in “deep South Philly” and the growing sense of inclusion among fans.
“It means a lot to see the Flyers continuing their outreach to LGBTQ+ fans each year, and growing off of what they’ve done in the past to connect more with the community itself. Sports can be a vehicle for change, and it has been exciting to see major sports leagues use their platforms for visibility and community support,” she explained to PGN. “If I had seen the Flyers doing things like this when I was struggling with my identity in high school, it would have been life changing. “
Of course, there is much to be done among inclusion in sports. Cothren wears a “Let Trans Kids Play” tee-shirt during her interview. This is to support young trans athletes who in some states are being asked to play sports based on their birth gender and not their gender identity.
The desire to include diversity doesn’t end with just engaging LGBTQ+ fans and their allies in the bleachers. Two Flyers teammates, James van Riemsdyk and Scott Laughton (numbers 25 and 21 respectively), were also interviewed for the documentary. They are both happy to be visible allies and each said a queer teammate would not only be welcome, but also supported in the locker room.
And what of the Orange Furry One himself, the Flyers much-loved, and much-parodied, mascot: Gritty? Fortunately, despite Gritty’s busy schedule being a symbol of social justice in the 215, he was able to give PGN a surprisingly erudite quote.
“Love is like Legos,” he said as he munched a cheesesteak from an undisclosed vendor. “It comes in shapes, sizes, and colors. It works best when you throw out the instructions and follow your heart.”