Q&A — 17-year-old Yanic Duplessis on being gay and proud in hockey

CBC Kids News • Published 2021-02-03 16:01

Teen explains why 'outing' others is harmful

Last fall, 17-year-old junior hockey player Yanic Duplessis did something that few before him have ever done in the world of hockey.

He came out publicly as gay, a huge move for a player in what he says is a macho sport with virtually no openly gay athletes.

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League prospect from Saint-Antoine, New Brunswick, said he came out to help make it easier for other young athletes like him to be open about who they are.

I feel a thousand pounds lighter .... It’s been a huge relief, I can finally be myself." - Yanic Duplessis, 17

Since then, Duplessis has received an outpouring of support from athletes like former Montreal Canadiens player Guillaume Latendresse and even the NHL itself.

Tweet from NHL reads: Yanic Duplessis hopes to inspire the hockey community by coming out

Nearly half a year later, CBC Kids News caught up with Yanic to find out what it’s been like to be out and proud.

Q: What was it like growing up in sport knowing you were gay?

A: You know, I felt like I was hiding a big part of who I was. And it took a huge, huge toll on me when I got older. So I had to do something because I wasn't myself.

Q: With sport specifically, what sorts of things make it hard to come out as a young person?

A: Well, the culture, especially in hockey — it's a macho sport. There's some things that are said in the dressing rooms or on the ice, you know, things like, “that’s so gay.”

Yanic Duplessis said that having to hide who he was for so long started giving him anxiety attacks, and that finally coming out to his parents was a huge relief. (Image submitted by Diane Dandurand)

Q: What made you finally come out to your parents?

A: It came to a point last year where I was really paranoid, because I was telling a few people and I really didn’t want it to come out at first. It came to a point where the stress affected me physically. I wasn’t focusing in class, I started getting sick and I kept calling my mom to pick me up. And my mom started realizing there was a problem.

She was like, "OK, if I come pick you up, you really have to tell me what’s going on." When I got in the car, I didn’t want to tell her, and she said, "Are you gay?" I was like, "No" right away. Then she started crying, and I had to let her know what’s going on. And then I told her, I was like, "Yeah." She told me everything was going to be OK. 

Q: What was the breaking point for you to come out to others at your school?

A: I didn’t come out myself, I got outed at a party that I wasn’t at. I actually tried to stop the rumour, but found out it was too late to stop it. So I decided to face it head-on. That happened over the summer [of 2020].

Q: What did it feel like to be outed?

I had a lot of emotions at once. I was mad, I was sad, I was kind of relieved. I knew it was going to get better, but I was sad that I didn’t come out on my own terms.

Yanic says that outing someone can put them in jeopardy and that they should get to come out on their own terms. (Image submitted by Diane Dandurand)

Q: Why is it bad to out people?

A: There’s a reason why that person doesn’t want to come out right now. They have to build the courage by themselves to come out. It was hockey that was my reason. I didn’t want my teammates to treat me differently, I didn’t want it to affect me making a team. But it can be that your family isn’t OK with LGBTQ people, so [there are] many different reasons why that person doesn’t want to come out.

Q: Before you were outed, you came out privately to journalist Craig Eagles after learning he did a story on Brock McGillis, one of the only professional hockey players to come out as gay.

What led up to you coming out to the hockey world at large on Craig’s podcast?

A: He called to check up on me, and I was like, "I got outed." He was like, "Oh no." But I always told myself I was going to do something to help others that were going through the same thing that I was going through. He said, "If I can help you in any way, let me know." I was like, "Actually, could you share my story, 'cause Brock’s story helped me come out to you, so it might help another person to come out."

(Image submitted by Diane Dandurand)

Q: How did your teammates respond when you came out?

A: I've had nothing but support from my teammates. I couldn't ask for better teammates this year, even last year. I mean, probably every guy on my team has sent me a message or has called me and even one guy that came over to my house ... started crying because he was like, "Dude, I can't believe that you're going through all of that while playing hockey and you couldn't talk to anyone."

Q: Because of COVID-19, your big-league hockey career has been put on hold, but you’ve still gotten to play with your school team. What’s it been like to play now that you’re out?

A: There was a game where my team all got Pride tape, and decided to put it on their sticks. When we came out on warm-up, the other guys on the other team wanted some, too. It was really good to see.

Q: Why do you think there aren’t any out hockey players in the NHL?

A: That’s a good question. It’s partly because of the culture, I’d say. When I came out, I received a lot of support, but there’s also a lot of hate. In any sport, not even hockey, young players seeing those hate comments, it makes them not want to come out.

Yanic said that players in the NHL need to continue to be open about being LGBTQ allies in order to change the culture of the sport. (Image submitted by Diane Dandurand)

Q: How can we make sport in general more inclusive to the LGBTQ community?

A: Talk about it, normalize it. Coaches, talk to your players and say it’s all right, it’s normal. You know, homophobia, you’re not born with it. It’s taught, you learn it, it’s like being racist. So if you can learn from a young age that [being gay is] all right and normal, you probably won’t have any problem, you know?

Q: How do you feel now that you’re out?

A: I feel a thousand pounds lighter, you don’t even understand. I’m happier. It’s been a huge relief, I can finally be myself.

Yanic said that since he came out, his teammates have been nothing but supportive. (Image credit: yanic_duplessis/Instagram)

Q: What would you say to a young kid going through the same thing you did?

A: With my coming out, I've received nothing but support. I've been lucky, but, you know, in some cases it might be different. But the best advice I could give someone is just be yourself. You’re living for yourself, you're not living for anyone else. You might not believe it, but there's always at least one person that's going to be there for you and accept you for being you.

(TOP IMAGE CREDIT: submitted by Diane Dandurand)

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