Brock McGillis, Hockey and the LGBTQ+ Community

By Colin McGregor

In all of North American pro hockey, down to the major junior level, there is exactly one openly declared active gay player actually playing in a league. It is Luke Prokop, who plays in the Nashville Predators’ organization in the minors. Is this due to any toxic masculinity in the sport?

Brock McGillis, 40, was one of the first professional hockey players in Canada to come out as gay – but not while he played. After a career that included stops in the OHL, Concordia University and the Netherlands, he came out at age 33. Since then he’s been trying to sensitize people to what it’s like not just to be gay, but to be different at all in a sports environment.

Brock, who grew up in the bilingual city of Sudbury in Northern Ontario and went to school in French until secondary 2, criss-crosses North America speaking to school-age minor hockey teams and others to forward his message of inclusion in sports, and in life in general.

“My aim is to rally people to be shift makers,” he says. “I think people by nature are good. Sometimes we don’t always do great things. I don’t think they want to hurt people. The may not care if they feel great, but they don’t want them to feel bad. They don’t want to be the cause. So it’s recognizing your language, behaviors, attitudes and then becoming a shift maker to evolve the culture for everyone else. Being a part of the solution instead of the problem. I want to create open, welcoming spaces regardless of LGBTQ+ whether you’re masculine enough to play. I want people who are from non-traditional faiths within the culture to feel good.”


Whether it’s in sports or society it’s something we all do: we conform to the norm of the setting, Brock observes.

And yet, “the most profound thing I’ve figured out is that normal doesn’t exist. Normal is fake, it’s an illusion. Every room you’re in there are people with different hair color, eye color, skin color, body shapes and sizes. We’re all different. All of us, all your readers, we’re all a bunch of weirdos. And the sooner you embrace your weirdness, the less likely you are to judge somebody else for theirs.

“The less we conform and the more we bring our full selves everywhere we go, the less likely we are going to be to judge others who are being themselves. And frankly, the happier we are going to be.”

On male sports teams there is pressure to conform to a certain type of personality. Brock did this when he played hockey, to mask his sexual confusion. “Mine was more internal struggles,” he recalls. “I became the stereotype of a hockey pro in order to survive. I believed if I could adhere to the norms they wouldn’t find out I was gay.”

Brock says: “If you become an elite level hockey player, it becomes your whole identity. Hockey is my love, it’s my passion, it’s how people know me. If I’m gay I will lose this. That’s where I went no, I’m not gay. I suppressed it completely, I became cocky, a hockey bro, I partied hard, I acted like I was a gift to the world. I’m ashamed to admit I was a womanizer. All of that made me feel like crap, really. I struggled immensely because I wasn’t being me.”

I mention Bobby Orr, who in junior was a quiet, polite young man who read books in the locker room between periods. So the other players in junior went for his knees, as they did in the NHL – effectively shortening his brilliant career.

Brock’s reaction: “If you’re that quiet person and you’re not fully conforming, and in the case of Bobby Orr that would be by reading books, you might as well be gay. You’re now the fag.”

Brock McGillis

Three Ways

Three ways that you can create shifts, according to Brock, are to:

– Humanize issues

– Change the environment you create (specifically, the language you use)

– Break down conformity

For example: “Every hockey player has something they don’t tell their teammates they enjoy. They adhere to the norms. The norms might be in part what they are but it’s not fully who they are. They’re not embracing themselves.”

How can a young hockey player escape this? “I say to them, tell me something you wouldn’t typically tell a teammate you enjoy. You call yourselves brothers, but in men’s and boys’ hockey rooms all you can talk about are women, video games, partying and sports. That’s not a family; my family knows more about me than that. We get them to share, to engage, and it’s cool to see what comes out of that. When they start sharing things they enjoy, it’s wild.”

Brock says that women’s hockey is light years ahead of the men in terms of inclusiveness and openness to LGBTQ+ players. But there are still issues. The women adhere to some of the norms of the men’s culture. There are only a few things they talk about in a women’s team locker room.

He argues that men’s major junior hockey in Canada isn’t a welcoming place at all. He’s had people tell him stories like a player was about to come out in the Q league (LHJMQ, the major junior hockey league in Quebec and the Maritimes). “The team told him if you’re gay and you come out, we’re cutting you.” This occurs regularly, Brock claims: “Most of the time when this happens, players quit.” 

Players are generally more progressive, inclusive than management in major junior hockey, but “their language and behaviors don’t necessarily match their thoughts. They are exposed to so much more.”

In almost every city he visits, Brock gets kids coming up to him saying they’re gay but they’re afraid of coming out. “It’s an honor to be the person they trust,” he says.

Recently a 14-year-old kid came up to Brock and said he had experienced anti-Semitism from his teammates for the first time. “I inspired him to tell them how it made him feel” was Brock’s response. He pulled the coach aside and said: “He wants to share the impact. I’m coming back to facilitate it. When is your next practice?” Brock talked to the mom, found out how the young player wanted to share, and set up a team meeting, which he attended. “It was pretty incredible,” Brock reflects.  

Brock is chipping away at prejudices a little at a time with each group he shares with. Having done this for seven years, he is talking to 100 high-school aged minor hockey teams as part of his most recent Culture Shift Tour. He prefers a noisy room to a quiet room, because youths engage better.

“We need to engage, we need to laugh, we need to have a good time, there needs to be banter. Because of there’s not they’re just going to shut down, they’re not going to care. I need them to want to engage. I think you can have fun and make the world a little bit better.”

Improving things for LGBTQ+ athletes – one laugh at a time!  

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