ARLINGTON – For Capitals goalie Braden Holtby and his wife, Brandi, it was a small gesture, but one they hope has an outsized impact because of who he is and the sport he plays.
Speaking at the annual Human Rights Campaign dinner in Washington on Sept. 18, the Holtbys continued their support of the LGBTQ community when he introduced figure skater Adam Rippon, the first openly gay skater to win a medal at the Winter Olympics. That support is crystalized during Hockey is for Everyone month, a time of added attention to initiatives that foster social change through and in the sport.
The Holtbys have long been part of that work – and not just during February. Hockey is a sport where diversity is lacking. That’s changing at the grass roots level as it takes off in bigger American cities and it’s there the Holtbys figure they can make a difference.
“You can definitely see there’s changes being made to people’s mindset and the main thing is you want to impact the youth,” Braden Holtby said. “You want to hit that ground level so there’s respect paid from Day 1 for a person’s life and realize the importance of it. Don’t do something you don’t understand and will regret later.”
It’s something Brandi has always keenly felt growing up and helped her husband understand. On a trip to San Francisco for their honeymoon, the couple walked into an HRC Action Center and Store in a house once owned by Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office in California as a member of the San Francisco board of supervisors. Milk, whose home and camera shop were located in the heart of the Castro District in San Francisco, was assassinated in 1978.
The Holtbys spent a few hours talking with volunteers and learning about the organization. You might have seen the ubiquitous blue stickers with yellow stripes signifying an equals sign on cars throughout the D.C. region and the country. HRC is the largest LGBT civil rights advocacy group in the country.
“I’ve never really been a guy for the spotlight or anything like that,” Holtby said. “I didn’t do enough early on in my career and my wife has been the one to push me to use that a bit more because you can use that for good.”
The Holtbys showed their support in other ways. They have twice marched in the Capital Pride Parade and three times attended the Capital Pride Festival, which it is a part of. Last year Holtby was celebrating the Capitals’ Stanley Cup victory and couldn’t make the parade, but he was at the national dinner in September at the Washington Convention Center. It’s all part of starting a conversation in the sport about LGBTQ issues.
“Especially with LGBT rights and everything it’s not a weird thing any more, people understand it better,” Holtby said. “That shows through in inclusion and it shows through in the way people live their lives. Having that empathy, it’s something you may not have thought of, especially if you grow up and play hockey your whole life and there’s one way to do things. We want people to think on a broader spectrum.”
Holtby said that trip to San Francisco early in their marriage was just the introduction to HRC, but that Brandi had always thought the issue of LGBT rights merited her support.
“You know different people, you meet different people, whether family or otherwise, and you hear stories that you didn’t think actually happened and you don’t think is right,” Holtby said. “And that’s a big reason why she wants to push those the right way so people have a little more kindness and empathy. It’s just a small part, but hopefully if you can effect a couple people – especially the way the world is today – I think it’s good.”
If reaching young hockey players is the main goal, the topic of LGBTQ issues can still come up organically in an NHL dressing room, too. Holtby was proud that three Capitals teammates – Brett Connolly, Chandler Stephenson and Nathan Walker – came to the HRC dinner where he made the introductory. They all had a preseason game the next day, but made the effort anyway to support Holtby and support the cause. There is strength in numbers.
“I feel like we’re just doing our part. But it means a lot to people, especially when you see us marching in the parade here and the support that the Capitals have given, too,” Holtby said. “It means a lot for fans, especially, to know that they’re included and they’re included in our team as well no mater what their circumstances are. We’re all a family and a hockey community and we want to see that out.”
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