"You don't have to embrace gay rights, just don't stand in the way."
Who else would issue such a rationally intimidating statement than Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager, Brian Burke.
His contributions to the gay and lesbian communities went full speed when his son, Brendan, came out in January of 2010 and took a stance against intolerance. Burke promised his son he would march in the Gay Pride Parade with him that coming summer in Toronto, but sadly Brendan was killed in a car crash on February 5th, 2010. Burke kept his word and marched in the parade, and he's never looked back.
As a recognized and respected face in the sports world, Burke is approached by many organizations to help their cause.
Most recently the Canadian Safe Schools Network asked Burke to sit on their board of directors and help their fight against bullying.
The CSSN was established in 1997 and holds conferences and training programs across Canada for teachers and principals to help create safer environments for kids in schools.
It's a program that piqued Burke's interest, but he wanted to make sure there was a special emphasis on the LGBT community (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender). Burke said Brendan was never bullied as a kid because he had an older brother and would eventually grow to be a strapping six-foot-four, but he knew the gay community is frequently targeted with violence.
Stu Auty, president of CSSN, says, "things are much more positive with Brian's support."
Burke averaged about a penalty minute per game as a player and has never been a shrinking violet as an NHL or team executive, so it's no surprise he wouldn't hesitate to defend himself or someone else being picked on. He recalls a time in high school when he saw a boy being bullied and he intervened by tossing the bully into a display case, shattering the glass.
But Burke knows the fight against bullying in these times of social media has made it a more unwieldy beast.
The issue received international attention in October when B.C. teen Amanda Todd committed suicide just over a month after posting a video to YouTube chronicling the bullying she had endured.
"Despicable, it's gotta stop," said Burke. "People used to get bullied when they got on the bus, but now there's cyber bullying."
Auty adds: "Everybody sees it. Ignorance is the enemy."
The two have teamed up to tackle bullying as best they can.
Burke helped spearhead a golf tournament in August that raised just over $120,000.
"Brian shows up, he's on a golf cart, it was a rainy day, and he's out there all day long greeting people," said Auty.
The big night of fundraising to help the fight against bullying is just around the corner.
On Nov. 20, the 16th Annual Unforgettable Dinner will be hosted at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto. Burke and Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair will be in attendance.
For ticket information, visit www.canadiansafeschools.com.
Just a few days before that gala affair, however, Burke will be sleeping on the street.
That's right, on Nov. 15 he'll be among a group of business elite and celebrities spending the night on Toronto streets in support of the LGBT contingent of Covenant House, the group also including Arlene Dickinson of CBC's Dragon's Den and The Big Decision.
It's clear that even far from the ice rink, Burke has the fighting spirit.
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