Hockey Hall of Fame - Stanley Cup Journals: 2010, 07

Brent Sopel proudly hoisting the Stanley Cup during the annual Pride Parade in Chicago. (Mike Bolt/Hockey Hall of Fame)
In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, a spontaneous demonstration against a police raid took place at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighbourhood of New York City, a gay club. The Stonewall Riot, as it is now known, is cited as the first instance where the gay community fought back against a system that persecuted against sexual minorities. That defining moment launched the gay rights movement in North America. Today, Gay Pride is celebrated with major street parties in many large cities, and Chicago is just one metropolis that celebrates sexual diversity. On June 27, one day prior to the 41st anniversary of the infamous Stonewall Riots, Chicago staged its annual Pride Parade.

The Chicago Gay Hockey Association (CGHA) invited the Chicago Blackhawks and the Stanley Cup to join them in participating in the Pride Parade. Although serious in their invitation, they were pleasantly surprised to receive a reply that confirmed that the Hawks would join the CGHA in the parade, and would bring the Stanley Cup. "We are thrilled and honoured for them to consider and accept our request," said Andrew Sobotka, president of the CGHA. "It's just the news we wanted to hear. For the Blackhawks to do this is amazing. It is wonderful to know everyone is helping to make 2010 a year to break down barriers."

Brent Sopel along with members of the Chicago Gay Hockey Association celebrating with the Stanley Cup during the Pride Parade. (Mike Bolt/Hockey Hall of Fame)
Brent Sopel, who was traded from Chicago to Atlanta just four days earlier, volunteered to represent the Blackhawks in the parade. Brent had a distinct reason for accepting the invitation. "Brian Burke was my GM for five years (while Sopel was playing for the Vancouver Canucks)." During that time, Sopel got to know Burke's youngest son, Brendan, who publicly acknowledged that he was gay, putting himself at risk of ridicule in hockey circles. But Brendan's sexuality was embraced by the hockey community, including the college hockey team with whom he worked. Brent decided to participate in the Pride Parade to honour Brendan. "When Brendan came out, Brian (Burke) stood by him, and his whole family stood by him, like every family should," he commented. "We teach our kids about accepting everybody. That's part of the reason I'm doing it. My wife and I have three children. We feel that everybody is equal."

Brent Sopel poses for a photo with the Stanley Cup and the Blackhawk jersey he wore during the Pride Parade. The jersey has the initials of BB honoring Brendan Burke son of Toronto General Manager Brian Burke who passed away earlier this year. (Mike Bolt/Hockey Hall of Fame)
Tragically, Brendan Burke died in a car accident in February 2010. "I met Brendan a couple of times. Any young kid that dies like that is tragic. Nobody should have to bury their children."

The Hawks weren't the only sports franchise to participate in the parade. The Chicago Cubs, represented by Hall of Fame star Ernie Banks, also had a float in Chicago's Pride Parade.

The gesture of both the Hawks and the Cubs was an important and symbolic message of tolerance to the gay communities around North America. While the Stanley Cup had yet to participate in a Pride Parade, in 2009, the Conn Smythe Trophy was included in Toronto's Pride Parade.

The Stanley Cup rode in a special section of the Chicago Gay Hockey Association's float, which was decorated in red, black, gold and white to honour the Blackhawks. Brent Sopel and his wife Kelly were joined by several of the CGHA's players, as well as roller skaters carrying hockey sticks. The parade route was crammed with almost a million revellers who enjoyed the sensational weather of the day. As expected, there were quite a few characters along the parade route, keeping the mood light and a lot of fun for participants. "I had a great time. It was a blast," laughed Sopel. "Everyone was fun; everyone was dancing. But at the end of the day, I hope it raised some awareness. I wasn't here to advocate (anything), but if coming here helps break down walls in the meantime, so be it. I was here for Brendan."

The parade concluded at 1:30PM, and Brent took the Stanley Cup to nearby Casey Moran's, a fabulous sports bar located in the shadow of Wrigley Field.

* * *

On Tuesday, Hawks' president John McDonough enjoys his day with the Cup, and well put you right there with the Stanley Cup Journal.

Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.

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