Hockey's gender identity training leaves coaches, parents with questions

Minor hockey associations across Ontario are now required to take gender identity training. But the concept is leaving many in Sudbury with more questions than answers.

Ontario Hockey Federation's online training explains gender spectrum, practical scenarios

Online gender identity training is now required for all minor hockey associations in Ontario. (Shutterstock/Lorraine Swanson)

Minor hockey associations across Ontario are now required to take gender identity training. But the concept is leaving many in Sudbury with more questions than answers.

This training is part of the Ontario Hockey Federation's commitment to educating members about gender identity.

The training explains the gender spectrum, and offers scenarios when it comes to accommodating the needs of trans athletes. That could be anything from finding a comfortable change room to dealing with possible discrimination.

Pierre Labrecque has taken the training as the president of the Sudbury Minor Hockey Association. He says the experience was "very valuable," but when it comes to the fundamentals of the sport, nothing changes.

Neil Mclean and Pierre Labrecque are both members of the Sudbury Minor Hockey Association. The two also coach, and have taken the gender identity training. (Samantha Samson/CBC News)

"In terms of teaching hockey skills, development skills, team strategies, I don't think it would change any way that I would approach the game or coaching the game," he says.

Labrecque also mentioned the training is a reminder to be more diligent when it comes to watching for bullying, harassment and language that might be discriminatory.

Old arenas pose challenges

The training might be modern, but Sudbury's facilities are far from it.

Neil McLean, a coach and the vice president of house league, says Sudbury's old arenas will be the biggest physical challenge.

"They were built 60 years ago, some of them, prior to having girls dressing rooms," says McLean.  

"The city has done a good job in re-vamping their facilities to include girls rooms. Now the next step is, do we re-vamp the facilities to have rooms for transgender personnel?"

What happens when athletes progress?

More questions come up when it comes to what happens inside those dressing rooms. Heather Paquette has two sons in minor hockey. She says she's happy the training is here since it's in line with a lot of her values, but she isn't sure how it will work in practice.

"As the kids get older, do we identify that person or do we just let them join the group as if it was nothing else? There's a lot of questions," she says.

"I think it's evolution and it's bound to come."

Andrew Dale of the Sudbury Wolves Hockey Club says the OHL team doesn't have gender identity training. (Samantha Samson/CBC News)

While transgender athletes progress through the minor leagues, it's unclear how other levels of hockey will work with them.

The Sudbury Wolves Hockey Club says they carry out random drug tests on their players throughout the season. While transgender athletes use hormones to transition, they might get flagged. But Andrew Dale, vice president of marketing and development, says there are ways to accommodate.

"Under doctors' advice and working with that athlete — should the opportunity exist that person has the skills to play in the league and contribute to a team — I don't see why anybody wouldn't work with that," he says.

'Not just dealing with statistics'

Online training is a start, but some say there's more work to be done. Vincent Bolt, education manager for TG Innerselves, says trans athletes are more accepted now than they were when he was in high school. But transphobia is still prevalent online.

Vincent Bolt of TG Innerselves says the online training should evolve into in-person workshops one day. (Samantha Samson/CBC News)

"On one end you have organizations who are taking the steps that need to be taken like mandatory training, he says.

"But you also see the backlash when you read the comments on the Sports Illustrated website, on the message boards, or on the Facebook page. You see what could go wrong if you do come out."

Measuring changes and developing in-person training are all ways to ensure these policies are effective, says Bolt.

"It's important to know you're not just dealing with statistics and terminology, you're dealing with human beings," he says.

"When you make the human connection, the training sticks."