By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Equality Forum’s global summit on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender issues begins today. On Saturday, the group will honor a family that has helped to ensure equality and safety among all athletes– regardless of sexual orientation.
Brendan Burke made headlines in 2009 when the 21-year-old came out while working as the student manager of the hockey team at the University Miami in Oxford, Ohio.
“He was the first person to be associated with the national hockey league to come out as gay,” says Patrick Burke when asked about his brother Brendan. Patrick, who once worked as a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers, says his brother believed that you can work in sports regardless of your sexual orientation. So when Brendan died in February 2010, he decided to keep his legacy alive. He started the You Can Play Project, with help from the entire Burke family.
“Our motto is– if you’re a good enough athlete and you work hard enough and can help your team win games– you should be able to play and your sexual orientation shouldn’t matter,” says Patrick.
The You Can Play Project has partnerships with several professional sports leagues and launched a video campaign for high school athletes. The message is– if you can play, you can play.
“There is a cultural change that we are in the midst of that we can see happening,” says Patrick.
But Patrick didn’t do it alone. He says the entire Burke family– his parents and sisters supported Brendan and support You Can Play.
“I told Brendan [when he came out] that it didn’t mean a thing to me and that I was fine with it,” says Brian Burke, who was general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs at the time. Today he works as President of Hockey operations for the Calgary Flames.
“It was a good message for young people and for families of gay children,” he says.
The message is if you can shoot, you can shoot…if you can pass, you can pass…and you are welcome in our locker room.
He says their goal is to end “casual homophobia” in locker rooms, where derogatory gay slurs are used in casual conversation.
“Bias and ignorance and stupidity are not doors that get kicked in, but their walls that crumble over time,” says Brian, “we are very pleased with the progress.”
“People in the sports world are no talking about LGBT issues,” says Patrick, “They’re talking about what it would be like to have an LGBT teammate. And fortunately, we ‘re seeing more and more athletes coming out as publicly.”
Equality forum will honor the Burkes and the National Hockey league with International Role Model Award on Saturday at the International Equality Dinner. For more or to purchase tickets, go to www.equalityforum.com.