Breaking Down Barriers

Founder Of Gay Hockey League Creates A Safe Haven On D.C. Ice

 

During his time with the Army National Guard, Justin del Rosario learned a thing or two about teamwork and community. Now, he’s taking those lessons and integrating them into his newest endeavor – growing the game as the founder of Gay Hockey D.C.

Hailing from the San Francisco Bay area, del Rosario’s path to hockey was far from a traditional one.

“My dad was an engineer and my mom was a housewife. Hockey wasn’t on their minds,” said del Rosario, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. in the 1960s. “Growing up, hockey wasn’t really there.”

By the time del Rosario started kindergarten, the now-defunct California Golden Seals were exiting the league. He kept up with the sport by watching the Winter Olympics, falling in love with hockey by watching heated matchups between the U.S. and Canada. 

But it wasn’t until the 45-year-old moved to Washington, D.C., that he played hockey for the first time. He started with learn-to-skate lessons, soon transitioning into learn-to-play. 

Fast forward two years and hockey has taken over del Rosario’s life.

For starters, he has organized several successful work teams with more than 60 players. While that has given him the opportunity to play on a team aspect for the first time, del Rosario wanted more. He wanted a community for players that may otherwise not feel comfortable dipping their toe into the sport.

As a gay man himself, del Rosario sought out a hockey team specifically for those in the LGBTQ+ community. Unfortunately, he was too late. The gay hockey organization that was previously in D.C. folded before he moved to the area. 

Seeing an opening, del Rosario created Gay Hockey D.C., a gay-straight hockey team built on overcoming homophobia in the sport and promoting a diverse hockey community.

“The way I’ve set up the work team and now Gay Hockey D.C., is all based on respect for each other,” he said. “It’s very inclusive because of that. There is a deep level of sportsmanship and respect for every player.”

Creating a safe hockey environment for members of the LGBTQ+ community from scratch certainly wasn’t an easy feat. Del Rosario actively recruits players – from beginners to those with lifelong experience – to share his passion for the game. 

While growing the organization, he pays out of pocket for ice time once a week so players can develop their skills and hold scrimmages amongst themselves. 

Del Rosario has received advice and inspiration from other gay hockey organizations in New York and Boston, and has even linked up with the Capitals and the NHL to make the game more inclusive.

As he continues to watch Gay Hockey D.C. grow, del Rosario is just happy to see people fall in love with the game and grow a community that breaks down barriers.

“Everyone that plays with us just want to support each other,” he said. “Hate doesn’t build bridges. What builds bridges is going out of your comfort zone, meeting people and developing a comradery through hockey.”

 

Photo Credit: Kevin Jones Photography

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