June 16th, 2024

Proud to Play kicks off Pride Month


By Alejandra Pulido-Guzman For the Lethbridge Herald on June 3, 2021.

The Lethbridge Public Library hosted their first Proud to Play virtual panel event on this week to kick off Pride Month.
The event hosted Erin Silver, author of “Proud to Play Canadian LGBTQ+ athletes who made history”, Bonnie Provencal a Lethbridge softball and baseball coach, and Shawn Daye-Finley, Program and Event Coordinator at Lethbridge Sport Council and former national team Olympic wrestler.
The book Proud to Play came as a suggestion from a publisher while Erin Silver was pitching an idea for her next book.
Silver said they’d always wanted a book about the experience of LGBTQ+ athletes in Canadian professional sports. They were interested in a book about different Canadian athletes who made a difference, how things had changed over time and if it was different from sport to sport.
“I was really excited, but I also was very nervous. This topic is so important because everyone should feel safe and included playing sports and being part of a team, and they shouldn’t drop out because of who they love or who they are,” said Silver.
For her book, Silver spoke to many Canadian athletes, academics, non-profit and human rights organizations. She wanted to make sure that when the book came out, it would be a good reflection of the story of sports in Canada, where we have come from, how we’re doing and where we’re going.
Silver shared that the most challenging part about writing her book was hearing some of the stories of what the athletes had been through.
“Some of the athletes felt depressed, anxious, they felt like they couldn’t be themselves. They couldn’t perform their best, all because they were part of the LGBTQ+ community and teammates would say things that weren’t nice and made them feel bad,” said Silver.
“Some people turned to alcohol or drugs or felt like they wanted to kill themselves and that’s a terrible thing, we don’t want anyone to feel like that,” added Silver.
Not everything was negative though, there were many inspiring moments. Silver shared that one of the most inspiring things about writing this book, was hearing about how good it felt when those athletes came out and could be themselves.
Some of the athletes announced they were part of the LGBTQ+ community before going to certain countries for the Olympics, that might have different views and they were nervous. Some of them came out at a time when they could potentially put their life at risk. They weren’t sure what was going to happen when they went to the Olympics and everybody knew that they identified as part of the LGBTQ+ community.
When it came down to selecting which athletes would be part of her book, Silver said that it was a matter of finding those who were willing to share their stories, willing to be role models to others.
“There is tons of amazing Olympians and professional athletes who really wanted to share their message and talk about diversity and inclusiveness. It took a lot of research and narrowing down the list and finding people who wanted to be a spokesperson, because unfortunately a lot of people are still in the closet,” said Silver.
On the topic of racism and sexist discrimination in sports, Shawn Daye-Finley has seen a fair share of it growing up. Especially when traveling abroad.
“The turning point or eye opener for me around discrimination was when I traveled to Russia for the university role games. We were warned before going that there is some discrimination against openly gay people, or people from the LGBTQ+ community and they warned us about you should not be so open about your feelings and your sexuality,” said Daye-Finley.
Daye-Finley shared that during his stay in Russia for the games, some athletes took it upon themselves to advocate for members of the LGBTQ+ community. He highlighted a fellow Canadian wrestler who had a Canadian flag that had the rainbow colours. She placed it in her window and was asked to take it down, but she refused and wore it around her to the closing ceremonies.
“I remember that that flag vividly and being very proud of the Canadian flag and rainbow, because of our beliefs and in being accepting of our differences. Realizing that we’re there in the pursuit of excellence and not to discriminate against one another,” said Daye-Finley.
Bonnie Provencal shared her experience with sports by remembering what it was like growing up. When she was about 10 years old, she was the only girl on her baseball team. By the time she was 14, her parents made her stop and start to play girls softball.
“I always remember I felt like belonging and being a member of that team and being good enough to play. That was always the thing that I felt like I could control. I could practice all these things and I could always improve my skills to be good enough to play. But sometimes it doesn’t matter how good you are at something, you might feel like you have to do other things to belong,” said Provencal.

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