PITTSBURGH (NewsRadio 1020 KDKA) - The Pittsburgh Penguins and NHL teamed up with the Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh for the first ever "You Can Play" night at PPG Paints Arena, as the Pens took on the Calgary Flames on Tuesday evening.
Gary Van Horn, president of the Delta Foundation, an advocacy organization for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in Pittsburgh, says it is a big step toward inclusion.
"Pittsburgh identifies with its beloved sports teams very well, so for the Penguins to stand up and say that everyone should be treated equally is something big. I think it will resonate with fans," says Van Horn.
Tuesday's game was chosen because Flames General Manager Brian Burke's son, Brendan, was an advocate for the LGBTQ community, speaking out against homophobia in professional sports.
Brendan was killed in a car accident in 2010 and after that, his brother, Patrick, started the "You Can Play" campaign, which works to "ensure the safety and inclusion of all in sports."
Penguins forward Chris Kunitz has really immersed himself in the initiative and has been named the Penguins' ambassador in the cause. He's also a leader in the locker room and community when it comes to diversity. He wants to make sure everyone knows the NHL cares.
"The 'You Can Play' initiative is important for the NHL and teams in general. You want to make people feel respected and that there's a place where you can feel safe," Kunitz said. "The culture of hockey locker rooms have changed throughout the years, probably with some of the words people have used or just stances of people in society, so I think it's just another thing the game is growing and accepting of everybody who is under the family of hockey."
Other players were looking forward to the night, too. Members of both teams used rainbow-colored pride tape on their sticks during the warm-up.
"It's a lot of fun for us to be involved with that," said forward Nick Bonino. "I think that NHL's done a great job partnering with them and promoting the LGBT community, and I think guys in here are looking forward to being able to use the tape and try to promote that."
Van Horn says the Penguins, "opened up their luxury charity box for youth members of the [LGBT] community who are interested in hockey and sports. The National Anthem will be sung by a member of the community that's a student at CAPA High School. Also, the Penguins have embraced [the event] with a bunch of merchandise too, specifically geared toward the LGBT community as well."
It is the first time a Pittsburgh sports team will host a LGBTQ friendly event.
For more information on the "You Can Play" Project, visit: http://www.youcanplayproject.org/
The NHL is calling February "Hockey is for Everybody" month. They'll also have events to show it's a welcoming place for people with disabilities and of different ethnicities.
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