He has also enforced the rule, remembering one game in a relatively quiet arena without many fans. A team captain aggressively used an anti-gay slur for everyone to hear, so Mitchard called a penalty. The call wasn’t because Mitchard, who wasn’t out at the time, was angry. The league allowed Mitchard to make it known through his work that language like that was no longer acceptable.
He simply removed the player from the game, just as the rulebook outlines.
Before the next hockey season, Mitchard was hanging out with some fellow referees. He remembers them asking another referee, who was out, about his boyfriend and when they’d get to meet him. Mitchard called the experience “eye-opening” because the questions weren’t targeted at a weakness with the goal of exploitation.
“It was just sincere care that he was just like everybody else,” Mitchard said. “And that was huge for me.”
It left no nervous tension for Mitchard to come out at that time.
Once Mitchard was out and posted about his relationship on Facebook he heard from other people, including some other referees, who came out to him. That meant everything to Mitchard, who had to step away from officiating in 2018 because of health issues. He’s helped mentor some of these people and help them navigate steps like telling friends and family.
“Not only was it reassuring of the friendship that I had built with these people prior to coming out, but it was then reassuring going forward that they had the trust within me to hold onto their potentially biggest secret of their life,” Mitchard said.
He wants other hockey players and referees who may be struggling with coming out to know that they are loved and respected.
“And it’s hard. It’s hard to believe that,” Mitchard said. “But hopefully my story can reach people that need to hear it.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.