“Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” In a current climate where words of hate based on race, gender and sexuality are all too common, we can’t ignore that this old childhood saying could not be farther from the truth. Words can hurt.
As an adult woman in my mid-thirties, living in Los Angeles with my wife, I play ice hockey, the sport I love. While doing so, I’m called the b-word, c-word or d-word on a weekly basis. Like all ice hockey players, I consider myself tough. It wasn’t until I participated in the Porter Novelli-sponsored Fearless Dialogues session at ColorComm, the conference for women of color in communications, that I began to dig deeper and discover how the power of words, compounded by more than 20 years of ice time, can affect even the toughest. Here, I opened up to a group of women of color about my personal struggle of playing one of the most masculine sports around. On that day, I felt so grateful to be surrounded by strong, powerful women sharing their, almost daily, stories and struggles of hate. I didn’t feel alone.
Netflix comedian Hannah Gadsby in her crushing special “Nanette,” clearly explained how I felt as a member of LGBT community. As she talked about being a “quiet gay,” I realized how much I didn’t want to “rock the boat” and just blend in. But soon after my time at ColorComm, I began to understand my words matter just as much as those used against me on the ice.
When the LA Blades hockey team asked me to participate in the 10th Gay Games in Paris in August 2018, the timing felt right for so many reasons. The next step for me was to go beyond words and move into action. The Gay Games is worldwide sport and cultural event that promotes acceptance of sexual diversity, featuring lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender athletes. It calls itself the world’s “most inclusive” sporting event.
The Gay Games was my first time participating in a demonstration/celebration for the LGBT community and to not only march in the Opening Ceremony with thousands of open athletes from around the world, but to also do so in a stadium behind a squad of fully armed military, made me scared but proud to stand for something bigger. Organizers say the Games are crucial because of the discrimination gay athletes face in sports, on both the amateur and professional levels. This small action of participating felt healing in itself. Marching with 10,000 competitors, representing the USA with my hockey teammates, alongside with same-sex ballroom and ice dancers, swimmers and cyclists, and the other 30 sports represented, we stood as equal athletes. Proudly representing more than 70 countries there was nothing but pure joy — to celebrate, to not hide and for that moment to be treated as equal. When I returned to work following the Games, I proudly wore my silver medal and felt the love from my colleagues near and far.
I’m bottling up that solidarity and using it as my motivation to use my words, share my story and move into even more action. Action to stand for love. #WeStandForLove
Jess Schmidt is a senior vice president in the Porter Novelli Los Angeles office and works on food accounts.