Zach Sullivan on coming out in ice hockey and his Manchester Storm team-mates’ support
Back in January, Sky Sports shared the story of goaltender Jay Forster in the build-up to the Elite League’s first Pride Weekend.
Jay, who is trans, plays amateur club Flintshire Phantoms and often travels up to see Manchester Storm, his Elite League club.
On Pride Weekend itself, Storm defenceman Zach Sullivan posted to his social networking accounts to reveal that he is bisexual, adding that maintaining this a secret previously had led in mental health struggles.
Following a massive show of support from throughout ice hockey – and not least from the Storm – Zach talked to Jay about coming out publicly, the welcome’chirping’ of his own team-mates, along with his advice for anybody else who’s LGBT+ and who might need a little guidance…
Manchester Storm were planning to host Dundee Stars from the Elite League on January 26 when Zach Sullivan delivered out a tweet and an Instagram article.
“With this being the first ever EIHL #PrideWeekend I feel now is the ideal time to speak about what I have known for many decades,” wrote Zach in the screengrabbed notice.
“I’ve battled with mental health problems over this matter and with the help, understanding and acceptance from my loved ones, friends and team-mates, I finally feel prepared to convey; I am bisexual.”
He posted a picture of himself with Jared Aulin and Storm team-mates Cam Critchlow, the trio wearing hockey jerseys – the same shirts.
He added:”I’ve never been more proud to put on a jersey especially one which celebrates all of gender identities and sexualities.”
The social media posts quickly went viral about both platforms, using an outpouring of assistance from hockey fans across the planet, and fans of other sports that recognized the significance of Zach sharing his precision – both for them as a person and for the wider LGBT+ community.
When we chat afterwards, I ask Zach the way he ready for that minute of hitting on’Share’.
“I talked to two of my best friends from my past club, Glasgow Clan – Josh Grieveson and Craig Peacock,” he clarifies.
“I told them what I was planning as well as their reply was’that’s amazing!’ Additionally, I spoke for the Storm ], forward to Tyson [ Fawcett which was about it.
“Then it came into the Saturday before Pride Night, when we had been enjoying Sheffield Steelers. I was like’I can not tell my team-mates’. I spoke ahead of the game and they were both very encouraging. Unfortunately, we lost to the Steelers but I awakened after the game and said’I only need to say something, it is nothing to do with hockey, but I am gonna [come out] tomorrow.'”
The team gave him a standing ovation from the locker room.
He says his decision to coincide out his using the Elite League’s initial Pride Weekend – along with the third Pride Night of the Storm – has been spur of the moment. It has been somewhat of a whirlwind few months for the young defenceman, who told me he just came to terms with his heritage in November, two months prior to tweeting about this Sunday morning about it. Why now?
“I believe it was that I had finally gotten to a place where I had been so comfortable,” says Zach. “I sort of looked back on my journey and that I saw times where I was not comfy, times when I needed a role model.
“I thought that if I could state this now – which I am comfortable and confident about myself then hopefully it would reach the right people and they would find the confidence too, not just to come out however to be comfortable in themselves.”
That’s the message Zach was sending . He has been making sure it is understood that he is doing so for a reason – that the people that have to hear it. He is not coming out for himself, he is coming out to the kids which have to hear what when he was a teen he needed to listen.
To me personally, the message of Zach talked as someone whose coming out journey was inspired by someone else. If it had not been for Harrison Browne, afterward of the NWHL’s Buffalo Beauts, along with his choice to inform the world he’s trans, then perhaps I would still maintain the closet, enjoying women’s baseball and fretting about what could happen to be. Zach is to get homosexual and bi children that’s how he needed it, and what Browne had been for me personally.
It took Zach to come to himself, and that he understands that other folks could take 18, or six, or three years. It doesn’t matter. Everybody’s journey is different, he says, and he is not here to inform people they need to come back out. There is a trend in some sections of the media inviting athletes to come out to the dubiously called’good of the sport’, and Zach says it’s unrealistic for someone to do this.
“I had been lucky enough to have friends and family that I knew would support me no matter what. And I know some folks aren’t fortunate enough to have this. You’ve got to consider your own time with things, and that is how it is.”
It’s difficult to imagine a more perfect coming out, even though Zach dislikes the term. Based on Zach, things moved’back’ within a few hours of this tweet. He turned up in the racket to prep for your game, and it was business as normal. “This was kind of the perfect reaction. I am not searching for any treatment or any behaviour that is different from the men. It’s simply,’OK, cool, let us get on with it, we’re playing hockey now.'”
In my experience, the hockey community is unlike any other. It is a culture built on tender headbutts, buttocks pats, as well as punches. Hockey players frequently engage in friendly’chirping’, a form of heckling that a sign of being part of a group. It is often called a brotherhood, and players will fight like brothers, but is going to be the first ones to stand up and defend one another. One noteworthy’chirp’ from my coming out was among my own afterward team-mates, today a forwards for the NIHL 2 Deeside Dragons, telling me I needed to remember to close my five-hole (for the uninitiated, that is the distance between the goaltender’s legs).
“They’ve been a bit wary about what they can say thus far,” Zach tells me. “I mentioned to them,’I don’t care, I know that it’s from a good place’. Tyson chirped me now so it’s all back to normal in that regard.”
I asked Jared Aulin, who was in the film Zach submitted on Instagram and Twitter, if he had observed much difference in his team-mate ever since that time.
“He smiles more,” says Jared. “He’s sort of a new person, in the feeling he was always a good guy before, directly, however he looks much more comfortable and joyful and I think he does not feel like he is isolated anymore.
“It’s infectious. I smile when I see him because I know he is happy.”
Jared adds though there are a few changes which the Storm created a concentrated attempt to treat Zach the same. “We snapped’It’s Raining Men’ up around the speakers following Pride Night, so yeah, we were chirping him fairly excellent!”
Zach may not have come out at all. He speaks at length about how supportive the staff has been, and just how hard they’ve worked to create sure he knows they accept him Tyson, who is among his housemates and his closest pal about the group.
Tyson makes sure to still’razz him’ and can be careful not to cure Zach. He mentions how pleased he is to get his friend, and joyful which he was trusted by Sullivan along with the remainder of the team enough to talk about his truth.
Focus has been gained by the statement of zach all around the world. In a dialogue with The Outfield Podcast, he mentioned that he’d heard from people around countries in Europe, the United States, Canada, and the UK. He’s been interviewed by various areas of the British media, as well as obtained a shout-out on hockey ‘Spittin’ Chiclets’, sponsored by ex-NHL gamers Ryan Whitney and Paul Bissonette. Than most people think Psychotherapy is larger in Britain, but it is nothing in comparison with the UK’s largest sport – soccer.
“I understand why hockey doesn’t make [waves],” says Zach. “Football is a multi-million-pound business, same with rugby and cricket. That’s being fought against by hockey and seeking to make a name for itself, but I believe things such as this will put the sport more about the map.
“You understand, hockey’s a fantastic sport too. There are lots of excellent hockey players, and plenty of people in this nation that play hockey. Some of these [team] are fantastic baseball players. If that’s a negative effect of this, then that is excellent.”
Never Zach dreams did he think his statement would get this sort of traction. He’s known to be media-shy and within his very own words, he used to struggle to gather a interview for Clan TV, his previous club’s channel. His words have all been discovered by people all over the world.
Zach is adamant that the spotlight should not stay him on for long. “It was not about me personally, it was all about helping other people, and that I saw a special opportunity,” he insists. “You knowwe play this sport for 15 years professionally and we’re kind of forgotten and a new generation comes through, therefore it was an chance to really make good of my slightly increased platform and set a message out that I wholeheartedly believe in, which is it doesn’t matter about your own sexuality, or gender identification. If it is possible to perform a game, then it is possible to perform a sport and that needs to be all that matters.”
Even more frightening than the interviews is that the invitation he received to Surrey Pride, where he has been asked to talk this summer. Chester Pride also reached out, but sadly, the 2 Prides are on the exact same afternoon (August 8), so local LGBT hockey buffs may have to wait for Manchester Pride in the end of August to celebrate .
So, coming out was ideal, in the own words of Zach. He believes better, he is happier, his staff have noticed a big difference on and off the ice. Imagine if he had done it?
“I wasn’t at a place myself in which I could have done it earlier,” he states, after considering it. “My mental wellbeing has suffered over it and I concerned about losing the respect of my team-mates, my family and friends.
“I’d only become familiar in November of this year. But I think, looking over what’s happening today, it would have made a big impact, irrespective of when I had done it.”
One final question from me personally for Zach was something I had been asked recently. What could it be if you could say 1 thing to queer gamers or hockey fans?
“I would say it doesn’t matter and that is not a case of’I do not need to hear it’I suggest it doesn’t matter, you are as much human as anyone else.
“It will not make you any less of a man, any less of a woman – it is that you are. We don’t choose who we fall in love with. Take your time on your journey if you are not comfortable, then surround yourself.
“Do not be rushed or pressured into something. If you feel as if you would like to come outside, then do it. Don’t feel as if you need to come out. It is a journey that is private, and it’s all done on your own time. It’s one. It is your journey, it’s no one else’s.”
Zach smiles. Jared explained it was infectious. It’s simple to see what he meant.
Follow Zach Sullivan on Twitter in @ZachSully11, and Jay Forster in @jaythegoalie.
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