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The Cutting Edges at the 1996 Vancouver Pride Parade. Photo courtesy of The Cutting Edges.

The Cutting Edges are changing the conversation as NHL faces inclusivity issues

The club is carving a way for LGBT inclusion in Canada’s favourite sport

By Mike Silk , in City , on April 4, 2023

When Reid Hearsum hurriedly laces up his skates, eager to hit the ice at his Friday night practice, his passion for the game is evident.

He wears his familiar blue jersey — one emblazoned with the Cutting Edges logo that features two Pride flags — with, well, pride.

“I like that we’re being visible to other teams,” said Hearsum. “If we didn’t have the rainbows on our jerseys, most people wouldn’t know we’re a gay club.”

Reid Hearsum at the West End Community Centre.

Hearsum is the president and a long-time veteran of the Cutting Edges, a Burnaby-based hockey club that promotes LGBT+ inclusion in the game. The group, which fields three teams in the Adult Safe Hockey League that play at Scotia Barn, functions under an inclusivity-for-all model that encourages participation from players of all walks of life.

“We provide a safe and welcoming place for everybody, not just LGBT but also allies and people who maybe are put off by the typical locker-room environment,” said Hearsum. “It’s a safe place to play in a sport that a lot of us grew up loving.”

The Cutting Edges are helping to change hockey culture which, as evidenced by the cascade of Hockey Canada scandals in recent memory, can be toxic.

According to a recent report by Hockey Canada, there were 927 reported incidents of on-ice verbal abuse during the 2021-2022 season. Most of these incidents were attacks based on players’ sexual orientation or gender.

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Despite being a champion for inclusion in the sport and a club that is widely accepted in the hockey community, the Edges have not been immune to attacks from opposing players.

“When they were formed back in the ’90s, there were incidents when they had to stand up for themselves,” said Hearsum. “This year … we’ve had just one incident where a player on an opposing team used two homophobic slurs.”

Hearsum, who has played hockey since the age of five, attributes the earlier incidents to the culture that hockey has created as a “bro-ey” endeavour.

“Even when we talk about hockey talk and the terms used, it’s still quite misogynistic, quite derogatory towards femininity,” he said.

“I think everybody has to work on that.”

The Edges are certainly at the forefront of that conversation.

“Gay Athletes” exhibit photo by Daniel Collins. Photo: The Cutting Edges.

Daniel Gawthrop, a well-known author, co-founded the Cutting Edges in 1993. The original iteration of the Edges, cobbled together through newspaper ads with the goal of playing in the 1994 Gay Games, quickly became a regular feature of BC’s rec hockey scene.

“We got a team together then, and then we wanted to keep it going still and not just for the Gay Games,” said Gawthrop.

“But of course, even to this day, there are no rinks that are gay rinks. It’s like ‘Hockey’s mainstream, if we want to keep going and playing and keeping them straight, that means that we’ll have to enter our team in a regular league,’ which means a straight league, which is every league.”

What began as a small team, initiated with a singular focus of building a space for gay men to play hockey, has since blossomed into an organization dedicated to breaking down all sorts of barriers.

“We have a trans player with us now. That’s another way we’re changing attitudes,” said Gawthrop.

“We’ve had people with AIDS play with us and regenerate their physical health. There was one point where we had three guys on the same line and I called them the ‘HIV line’ and they loved it. I know one in particular, it gave him a new lease on life.”

The Cutting Edges in actins at Burnaby’s Scotia Barn.

While the Edges have been a loud voice for hockey inclusivity for decades, their message is becoming more relevant every day. As pro players continue to reject their teams’ Pride festivities, including the likes of Philadelphia Flyers forward Ivan Provorov and San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer who declined to wear warm-up jerseys with Pride colours, there is more work to be done.

“What the Provorov incident does, is it reveals how much more work there is to do,” said Gawthrop. “All these things are doing is trying to raise awareness. There’s a real reactionary backlash to programs like this. But the Pride nights go on, and this work continues.”

Besides changing the larger conversation, the Edges’ work is being felt on a granular level as their message is being taken to heart by the club’s players.

“By raising our profile and raising more awareness, more people who are in the community will want to join. it gives them opportunity,” said James Barnewall, a two-year veteran of the Cutting Edges.

“It gives another avenue where we can showcase that ‘We’re here, we’re just like you, we’re working really hard to participate’ and hopefully it changes some of the stigma and some of the stereotypes. I think the club is good for that.”