Out professional ice hockey player Madison Packer is captain of the Metropolitan Riveters of the Premier Hockey Federation, and now joins Athlete Ally as a Pro Ambassador. Read on for our Q&A with Madison about her experience falling in love with hockey, coming out, and her advocacy and allyship for transgender youth.
Athlete Ally: How did you first get involved in hockey?
Madison: I first started skating when I was three, and started playing hockey when I was 5. I was sandwiched between two brothers growing up and I always wanted to do whatever my older brother was doing. I played with both my brothers growing up, and played on boys’ teams until I was 14. I was almost always the only girl in the rink. When I was 15, I made the switch to girls’ hockey, and it was very different. The friendships and social aspect of the team was a very different experience with the girls than it was when I was playing with boys.
What was your experience like coming out while playing sports? How did your teammates and coaches respond?
I had a really positive coming out journey. My parents and siblings all accepted me and embraced me for who I am right away. My teammates, opponents, and coaches have always been respectful of my story and my sexuality. I have been truly blessed to have had a journey where people have been accepting and loving throughout my process.
What do you see as the main obstacles preventing sports from being truly inclusive for LGBTQI+ players and fans?
I think people, especially now, have been emboldened to say things without considering the implications and impact those words can have on others. When we talk about the importance of inclusivity in sport, focusing specifically on Pride Night, there is a subset of people right now who are very taken aback and offended by that celebration. The purpose of Pride is not to force one’s values on another, but rather to say to a community of people who have long been persecuted simply for choosing love and happiness: you are welcome, and you are safe in our arenas.” It is difficult for those who have never been excluded to understand inclusion, and that is a battle we will continue to fight and face until we are able to educate people fully on all of the many aspects ofLGBTQI+ inclusivity in sports.
Why is it important to you to be a voice for inclusion?
I have benefited from always being part of inclusive and accepting environments. Not until I was a grown adult in the world at a local dive bar did I experience the nasty hate that some people show toward others for differences as insignificant as one’s sexuality. I believe strongly in the power of sport and the purpose it was intended to fulfill—instilling values of teamwork, togetherness, community. These are all values meant to unite people, and that is what sports are all about. It is one of the most beautiful parts of watching world competitions, watching thousands of athletes from different cultures, religions, and backgrounds come together to compete for one common purpose. Life is too short to hate someone for anything, and I have a responsibility as an athlete with a platform to use that platform for positivity and for change. Every team I have ever been a part of has been a safe place, welcome and accepting of all and I will continue to be a leader advocating for inclusivity for all people in all arenas.
This past year, you signed onto Athlete Ally and The Women Sports Foundation’s open letter opposing HR 734. Why was it important to you to voice your support for transgender and intersex girls and women in sports?
Kids should have access to sports. Period. Politics, agendas, and discrimination have no place in youth sports. I grew up playing sports with boys until I was 15 years old, and those sports changed my life. They also saved my life in a lot of ways, looking back on it now. To deny a child access to sports based on their gender identity or sexual orientation is wrong. Kids need sports to connect, socialize, and have a sense of community. Transgender kids are not a threat to youth sports. Transgender kids are not a threat to America’s youth. Allowing adults to do genitalia checks on children and excluding a 10-year-old transgender girl from the local soccer team are truly shameful and damaging threats, not the inclusion of transgender kids in sports.
What message would you like to send to LGBTQI+ youth, and particularly to trans youth, who are looking to see if they will be safe and welcome in the sport they love?
Put blinders on to the ignorance of others and keep following your heart in the relentless pursuit of your dreams. The world is made up of a lot more good than bad, sometimes we just have to stick together and work a little harder to find it. It’s a beautiful place when you find your rhythm, and we need each unique beat of the drum to keep changing the world. Be you, love you, and know that you are always welcome in my arenas.