As a kid, Chuck Dauphinee did not like hockey.
“I was just not comfortable in the dressing rooms, and there was not a safe space there,” Dauphinee said.
Dauphinee started playing hockey again in 2016, participating in mostly straight men’s leagues. But he was still a bit uncomfortable.
“I just didn’t feel safe at the time. Maybe because I couldn’t really be myself in the change rooms,” he said. In 2017, Dauphinee created the Halifax Mussels, a team for LGBTQ2S+ players and allies.
He said there should be options and safe spaces for LGBTQ2S+ people to exercise.
That’s exactly what happened on Saturday night.
Jaylen McKellar organized what he dubs Halifax’s “first ever solely queer hockey game” on Saturday to give a space for people to be among their peers. Only people who identify as part of the LGBTQ2S+ community were allowed to play.
Almost 50 people were cheering from the stands at Centennial Arena in Halifax, some wearing rainbow-knit hats and others holding encouraging signs for players. Some players had rainbow tape wrapped around their sticks.
Despite the chill from the ice, the atmosphere was warm and welcoming. The teams were unnamed, and spectators rooted for both sides. No one cared who won or lost.
“When I transitioned, I did not feel comfortable playing with women anymore,” McKellar said. “I was identifying as male, and playing with women was very difficult, just for misgendering.”
Playing in men’s hockey was like a whole different game for McKellar. “As soon as they found out I was queer, their attitude changed, It was a big, swift change, and then they got awkward and weird about it,” he said.
Cara MacKenzie has played hockey for 15 years. They started playing when they were 10.
“I grew up in rural P.E.I., so the atmosphere was not overly welcoming,” Cara MacKenzie said. “It’s nice to play with people who are like you and who aren’t going to misgender you.”
Dauphinee, McKellar and MacKenzie all stressed the importance of having queer-only spaces.
“What makes queer hockey special is losing a lot of toxic masculinity. It’s cut at the door. It’s not part of the atmosphere, and that’s delightful,” MacKenzie said.
It’s essential to have a sense of community and belonging, McKellar said.
“It’s knowing that you’re not alone in those experiences.”
McKellar hopes to organize a game once every three or four months, pending rink availability and player interest.
“People need to have options and safe spaces to go to,” Dauphinee said. “To have these spaces where people can be themselves even just for a few hours, it helps peoples’ mental health.”