Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Everyone must stand for equality in Sochi

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Through the sport of hockey, I have had the privilege of meeting some extraordinary people. While having competed in three Olympics certainly ranks as a highlight, perhaps, the most lasting memories will be of my teammates. Women from all different backgrounds, different ages and from different parts of the country -- we all wore the Maple Leaf proudly on our chest.

We pushed each other, struggled together, and lived together. We laughed together, yelled at each other, and cried together. We surmounted great heights together and there is not a day I don't use one of the many invaluable lessons I learned from our interactions.

Through my teammates' eyes I have learned an incredible amount about myself, about tolerance, about acceptance and loyalty. My teammates are heroes to a country, role models to our youth, and the athletes all Canadians cheer for wildly.

Because of my teammates and my friends, I have to take a stand against Russia's anti-gay policy. While vague in its nature, the policy opens the doors for intolerance, hatred, and discrimination -- ideals we should not stand for in Canada.

My teammates are some of my best friends. Gay or straight, I've stood by their sides as they've pushed themselves in the gym, struggled on the ice, found love and had their hearts broken. I've been there as they've had to explain to their families, fight stereotypes, and find out who they really are. I've had the privilege to be there for their weddings and the births of their children. We have gone through life together.

Therefore, I must stand for my friends and teammates. It should not be the sole responsibility of the LGBT community to voice the absurdity of the Russian policy, but rather, the responsibility of all Canadians. We must all take a stance that this human rights violation is not acceptable.

Is it not illogical that someone could be jailed for being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered? In my world, being a lesbian doesn't even make the list of topics of conversation because of its normalcy. I can't even imagine what their world would be like if they had grown up and lived in Russia.

Extrapolating, I think of the Russian women's hockey team. They finished third at this year's world championship. Can they be that different from our team? Their team must be comprised of straight girls, of lesbian girls and of girls trying to figure it all out. The odds are pretty high lesbians exist on that 21-member team. What must those women be experiencing right now? How has their world changed? Do they live in fear? Will they be allowed to compete in Russia?

Hopefully, our Canadian government, along with governments from around the world can put enough pressure on the Russian government to change the policy prior to the Olympics and Paralympics in February. If not, how do we as Canadians show this is not OK?

Should Canada boycott? No, that should not be an option. Athletes have trained and sacrificed their entire lives for this one moment in history. No one should take away their opportunity to reach their potential.

However, I think the entire Team Canada that marches into the Sochi Opening ceremonies should have something that unites them against intolerance. Whether it's a rainbow flag pin or some other marker, the world should know Canadians stand together, accepting everyone for their thoughts, beliefs and sexual orientation.

The Olympics and Paralympics in Sochi are approximately six months away. They are a symbol of everything the world can be. They are a symbol of hope, of human potential.

The Olympics has captivated my heart since I was a little girl and is an amazing platform to showcase an ideal world.

I will be in Russia watching my husband, Billy Bridges, compete in the Paralympics in the sport of sledge hockey. I hope that by the time I am there this is a non-issue, already solved at the governmental level.

However, if not, I will stand with my friends and my teammates. This is not an LGBT issue; this is an issue for all of us, not as only Canadians, but as citizens of the world.

Sami Jo Small, from Winnipeg, is a three-time Olympic ice-hockey goalie. Small has an engineering degree from Stanford University and recently helped start the Canadian Women's Hockey League, where she continues to play for the Toronto Furies. She works full time as a professional speaker. www.samijosmall.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 10, 2013 A15

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