The New Jersey Devils — partners of the Metropolitan Riveters — kicked off Hockey is for Everyone Month on Thursday with their annual Pride Night. Riveters forward Harrison Browne was the featured speaker at a networking event before the Devils played the Flyers at Prudential Center.
At the start of the 2016-17 NWHL season, Browne became the first openly transgender athlete to compete in professional team sports. He shared his story with the crowd of fans gathered for the event.
“At the beginning of my career with the National Women’s Hockey League, I was not only wearing a mask on the ice but a metaphorical mask as well,” Browne told the crowd. “Looking back, hockey was very much an escape for me. Playing a sport gives you a title that’s not gendered — you’re an athlete.”
However, prior to the NWHL’s second season, he was still identified as a woman by the public and media. Interviews and accolades credited Hailey Browne, not Harrison.
“Unfortunately, for someone who is transgender, you are sometimes faced with a choice of being yourself or doing something that you absolutely love,” said Browne. "At least, I thought I had to choose.”
As it turned out, Browne didn’t have to choose. The NWHL worked with Harrison to ensure his pronouns were changed internally and publically. Last season, Browne won the Isobel Cup as a member of the Buffalo Beauts.
After the Cup Final victory, Browne was asked about winning the title as an openly transgender athlete. “The thing that I’m thinking about most is that [the name] Harrison Browne is going to be etched onto that trophy. I’m glad that I opened the door to get one's chosen name on that trophy.”
Today, Browne serves as a role model on the ice and in the hockey community. He is the inclusion ambassador for the NWHL and was named an Ambassador for the NHL Hockey is For Everyone initiative. He was a guest of the NHL’s at the All-Star Game in Tampa and was featured on a panel on inclusion. Hockey has been a safe place for Browne, and he hopes by sharing his story, the game can be that for others.
Browne knows that being a beacon of light for some can also open him up to ignorance and criticism elsewhere. However, Harrison is a hockey player and hockey is for everyone.
“What comes out of pushing through your comfort zone is a beautiful and rewarding experience, said Browne. “We need to be open and we need to be proud."
Browne then directed his comments to the crowd at the Devils’ event.
“I’m so thankful for each and every one of you out there today,” he said. "Whether you are part of the LGBT Community or an ally, you are all important in the fight for equal rights. This is a fight so that everyone, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity, is free to be who they want to be.”
The New Jersey Devils and the NHL will continue celebrating Hockey is For Everyone throughout the month of February. MSG Networks is also currently running an 8-minute documentary Harrison Browne during the month.