This teen was a celebrated ringette goalie in Quebec — until the league learned he was transgender
Dawson Ovenden-Beaudry was told to stop playing in female league or his team would be disqualified
For most of 19-year-old Dawson Ovenden-Beaudry's life, ringette was more than a sport — it was an identity.
But when he came out as transgender three years ago, the sport he loved and his gender identity clashed in heartbreaking fashion.
"There was this one game … there was a parent in the stands who started yelling, kind of like: 'There's a boy on the ice!' Like, 'Ref! Ref! Check! There's a boy — the goalie's a boy!'" the Montreal teen recalled.
After the game, Ovenden-Beaudry's teammates walked out of the dressing room together to protect him from any potential attackers. He remembers getting into his car and crying.
"I was like, 'I hate this. I don't want to live my life like this.'"
Ovenden-Beaudry began questioning his identity at age 16. When he decided to transition, he adopted the name Dawson — a name his parents were considering for him, if he were born male.
Ringuette Quebec, the organization that oversees all ringette leagues in the province, recognizes male, female and mixed leagues. However, it only runs championships in female and some children's mixed leagues.
The year Ovenden-Beaudry came out as male, he also registered with his women's ringette team as male — something unprecedented as far as he knew.
At first, the association allowed him to continue to play. But eventually they gave him no choice but to leave his team — and the chance to become a champion — behind.
"I was losing part of myself. And that's a really hard thing to mourn," he told The Doc Project.
Ringette was created in 1963 as a winter ice sport for girls and women to play, because women were widely discouraged from playing hockey.
According to the Montreal Gazette, spectators were barred from a women's hockey game in Calgary in 1897, "lest a fallen player display herself in an unladylike fashion."
Ringette uses a doughnut-shaped ring instead of a puck, and players use a straight stick instead of a curved hockey stick. Some of the rules also differ, including a shot clock that will be familiar to basketball fans.
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Ovenden-Beaudry took up ringette at age nine, playing for fun after school before moving to more competitive leagues in his early teens.
By 2019, he was statistically the best goalie in his league.
"[He's] easily the best goalie I've ever played with. When he slides to the other side to stop [the ring], it reminds me of Carey Price," said former teammate Brooke Murray, comparing Ovenden-Beaudry to the star goalie of the NHL's Montreal Canadiens.
His former coach Don Goodes described him as a team player both on and off the ice.
"He would be the one in the dressing room before a difficult game, he would be there and he would give the team a motivational speech," said Goodes.
Murray said Ovenden-Beaudry may have come under increased scrutiny because of his exceptional skill.
"They see it as unfair because [of] some inherent sexism — 'Boys are better than girls. Boys are stronger than girls' — all of these kinds of assumptions that take away from Dawson's talent as a goalie, rather, and focus on his gender," she said.
Murray said she knows other ringette players who are transgender but have not come out.
Ringette Canada has a trans-inclusion policy, which was developed in part with the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport. It states in part: "Athletes in developmental and recreational sport should be able to participate in the gender category in which they identify, without any need for disclosure of information or other requirements."
It "strongly recommends" provincial or smaller local associations adopt their policies, including those related to trans inclusion and, more widely, "equal opportunity for participation," according to executive director Natasha Johnston.
"These are guidelines. So we can't mandate or impose them," she told The Doc Project.
"So eventually, hopefully, the organizational structure that falls beneath us has to come in line with what we're doing, or it doesn't work anymore," she said.
Ringette Alberta, for example, has its own inclusion policy that is very similar to that of its national counterpart.
Ringuette Quebec currently has no inclusion policy of its own and doesn't plan on creating one, its former president Florent Gravel told The Doc Project. Its website, however, does link to Ringette Canada's version of the policy.
In the summer of 2019, Ovenden-Beaudry wrote a letter to Ringuette Quebec.
"Essentially, I poured my heart out into it.... I said, you know, I'm trans, and I feel unsafe and I would like an acknowledgement from the association saying that, like, I belong there and that I can play," he said.
"It would make me feel more secure in terms of ... facing these other teams."
In August, Ringuette Quebec replied, telling Ovenden-Beaudry he could play on a men's or mixed-gender team, but not a women's team.
Gravel told The Doc Project that while he considered Ovenden-Beaudry's situation "unfortunate," it was his personal choice to stop playing.
Ovenden-Beaudry described Ringuette Quebec's response as "heartbreaking." As far as he was aware, there were no active men's or mixed-gender leagues for teens or adults operating in the province.
"I said, you know what? I'm going to continue playing until they friggin' drag me off the ice," he said.
It happened after a game a few months later, on Nov. 15, 2019. Ovenden-Beaudry's coach received a notice from Ringuette Quebec telling him that if he continued to play, the entire team would be disqualified from the season.
"I do remember ... leaving the arena and just feeling awful, knowing that I had just played my last game," he said.
Fighting for inclusion in sports
Ovenden-Beaudry hopes telling his story will put a spotlight on what he calls ringette's "huge" inclusion problem, which he says goes beyond gender identity barriers.
He said the sport caters mainly to "higher-income, white cis [gendered] women" and few others.
Johnston said Ringette Canada is working on several fronts to make the sport as accessible as possible, including gym ringette programs for students without access to an ice rink.
It is also in the early stages of working on an outreach program to introduce the sport to communities in the Northwest Territories, and a separate program "specific to introducing new Canadians to the sport," she said.
More than a year after his last game, Ovenden-Beaudry is still processing everything that happened.
He continued to help the team as an assistant coach, and he officiated some games until the COVID-19 pandemic put all games on ice for the foreseeable future.
For now, he's helping to coach two teams over Zoom video chat, and he might play recreational games when it becomes safe to do so again.
"I think there is a long fight ahead of me, but … I hope people will connect with my story and support me in creating a sport environment that is diverse, inclusive and accepting," he said.
"I'm going to continue coaching, and I'm going to continue being a part of this community — even if it's breaking me down to my core."
Written by Jonathan Ore. Produced by Tally Abecassis and Mira Burt-Wintonick.