The world of competitive sports has often been associated with rather toxic views of gender and sexuality. For years, gay athletes were forced to hide in the shadows over fears they would not be accepted by their teammates or fans.
In recent years, many sports organizations have sought to change the narrative, and make sports more inclusive. Efforts have been undertaken to ensure the inclusion of LGBTQ athletes and fans at all levels of sport.
While initiatives such as You Can Play, or rainbow jersey projects have made an impact, the fact remains that openly gay athletes are still rare in the world of elite-competitive sports.
This is not necessarily the case in the world of curling, where gay athletes can be found at nearly every level of competition, including at national championships like the Brier and Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
At this week’s Tim Hortons Brier in Kingston, there are two openly gay athletes competing among the more than 60 men registered in the competition.
While the sport still has a way to go to be more representative of the LGBTQ population, having openly gay athletes competing at on a national stage is certainly a step in the right direction.
If the experiences of John Epping and Dustin Kidby are any indication of the curling world’s
level of inclusivity, it is safe to say the community is a very welcoming place for gay athletes.
Since Team Ontario skip John Epping publicly came out over eight years ago, the Peterborough native says his experience has been a positive one.
“It’s been fantastic, we’re a small-knit family, we’re really super tight,” Epping said of his acceptance within the curling community. “They wanted to make sure that everything was OK for me, and make me feel as comfortable as possible.”
While deciding to come out back in 2012, Epping’s main reason for doing so was to hopefully open doors for future gay athletes.
“The [whole reason] to come out was if I could help make an impact for those who need it, that’s the main reason for this,” Epping said.
One curler who has benefited from Epping’s experience is Team Saskatchewan lead Dustin Kidby. Kidby publicly came out during the 2017 Brier in St. John’s, and like Epping, he says the community has been supportive.
“It’s been great. Everyone’s super cool about it, all the athletes, fans… everyone’s [been] super good about it,” Kidby said.
Perhaps the greatest source of inspiration young gay curlers can find in the experiences of Kidby and Epping is just how little their sexuality has mattered. Both athletes have been able to enjoy successful curling careers without being dominated by any particular labels.
While Epping and Kidby’s experiences will hopefully create more opportunities for gay curlers at the sport’s highest level, gay curling leagues have been set up across the country to create an inclusive environment for LGBTQ athletes at the grass-roots level.
Curling With Pride, is one such organization, which seeks to create a “fun, inclusive, safe, and social curling experience,” for members of Edmonton’s LGBTQ community.
While more work can always be done to make sports as inclusive as possible for members of the LGBTQ community, the curling world is a great example of the power that comes when all athletes are accepted for who they are.
Dylan Chenier is a busy student, writer and actor. When he’s not writing about his favourite sports like curling or auto racing, he can often be found on-stage or behind the scenes at the Domino Theatre. Follow him on Twitter for more 2020 Brier coverage at @DylanC98.