The sweet reason this NHL star has a rainbow-striped hockey stick.

Being a young gay athlete can be rough. I know because I was one.

I had fun playing basketball in high school, but it was exhausting — on and off the court. Hearing homophobic language tossed around the locker room like one of the basketballs was part of the daily grind. And it was painful thinking, would any of my teammates accept me for who I am?

Clearly, I'm not the only one who felt that way.


Persisting homophobic attitudes in the sports world are a very real thing. But, at the same time, plenty of young athletes (I'd guess the silent majority even) would welcome an LGBTQ teammate — no questions asked.

That's why these rainbow-wrapped hockey sticks are so freaking cool.

Hockey players will soon be able to show their support for their LGBTQ teammates simply by wrapping Pride Tape (seen below) on their sticks. In doing so, they're showing those on and off the ice that they support and promote inclusion of LGBTQ players.

Photo via Pride Tape, used with permission.

Pride Tape — which is currently being funded through a Kickstarter campaign — was launched by the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta in Canada, as well as the You Can Play Project, which promotes LGBTQ inclusion in sports.

The tape addresses a widespread problem. Fear of being bullied by teammates prevents many young queer athletes — an estimated 81% of gay males and 76% of lesbians — from coming out of the closet, according to an international report on homophobia released last year.

Dr. Kris Wells, who's heading the Pride Tape campaign, said homophobia in sports certainly exists in Canada too: "[Pride Tape is] a simple way to show your support for LGBTQ youth without actually even having to say any words," Wells told Upworthy. "It can become a powerful statement."

Pride Tape has been a hit since it launched about a month ago, thanks in part to support from a star athlete.

Since the campaign for Pride Tape officially launched in December, the response has been "phenomenal," according to Wells. Every major Canadian TV network has agreed to air a commercial for the tape that features NHL player Andrew Ference free of charge. Ads spreading the word about the project have launched across Canada too.

"Some kids stop playing the game they love just because they’re gay," Ference says in the commercial. "Let’s show every player they’re welcome on the ice."

The Pride Tape campaign shot a commercial for their efforts with a little star power from Andrew Ference, a player on the NHL's Edmonton Oilers. Photo via Pride Tape, used with permission.

"People just said, 'Whatever we can do to support, count on us,'" Wells explained of the campaign's success thus far.

The campaign's aiming to raise a bit more than $39,000, which would allow it to provide 10,000 rolls of tape for free "to local teams across Canada and beyond," according to a press release. As of Friday afternoon, it's raised over $24,000.

Right now, the tape isn't quite ready to be sold on the market. But its creators hope that will change soon.

Once the initial Kickstarter campaign wraps (get it?), the hope is that interest in the tape will allow more to be manufactured and sold, with profits directly benefitting LGBTQ youth initiatives at the institute and the You Can Play Project.

Photo via Pride Tape, used with permission.

"The more that we're talking about [LGBTQ inclusion] in the locker room, in the stands, in our community rinks, and in our schools, the better," Wells says. "Because that's what's going to lead to a change in attitudes."

As far as long-term plans, the goal is to expand Pride Tape products for athlete use in other sports as well.

Pride Tape is a simple, colorful concept that could make a big difference to many young people.

I know high school me would have loved to see any sign that one of my teammates had my back. So I'm guessing plenty of kids will be thrilled to spot a rainbow-striped hockey stick out in the ice rink soon.

Support the Pride Tape Kickstarter here.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

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This article originally appeared on 03.19.15


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