A year ago today I made an announcement that changed the trajectory of my psudo-professional career forever- I came out as a gay man to the online hockey community that I’ve been apart of for almost a decade.
It was a decision that I went back and forth with for a few months. I wasn’t sure how that news would go over. The thing about Twitter is you can get a pretty good idea of what people’s beliefs are, what side of the aisle they’re on, so to speak. I was pretty confident most of the people that I work with, admire, and some follower’s whom I respect the most would be ok with the announcement. As I gained courage it just so happened to coincide with the 2020 #BellLetsTalk day, which is one of the most inspiring days on the otherwise hellscape known as Twitter. Reading through everyone’s inspiring stories of overcoming mental hardships every year is a day that I look forward to and thought it’d be a good time to finally drop the bomb I was holding.
Being gay was never really a secret, but it was never something I’ve been overly open about either. If you’ve paid close enough attention over the years to my social media, you probably had a pretty good idea, but otherwise it may have come out of the blue. It’s something I’ve battled going public with for years, but for some reason I always opted to keep it under wraps.
Despite what most people think of my “Dan the Flyera Fan” persona, my following has increased over the years as Brotherly Puck and Brotherly Pod continue to grow, and with that increased audience comes a feeling of responsibility to stand up and promote what I believe in. I felt it was time to let the hockey community know that I was gay and become a solider for the good guys in the ever-growing battle that is “hockey is for everyone.”
Even though a vast majority of my fans and followers have been nothing but supportive, not a week goes by when I don’t have someone throw a homophobic slur my way. Typically, the people who are scummy enough to use that kind of language tend to read at a fourth grade level and don’t know the difference between “your” and “you’re,” making it pretty easy to dunk on those bigots when they decide to hop in my mentions.
Over the past year, I’ve talked about my story on twitter and called out scumbags on the platform for their homophobic comments made towards either myself or generalized hate. I’ve also talked about my experiences on Brotherly Pod a few times, mainly during an episode appropriately titled “A Conversation Worth Having” (which you can listen to here) which was sparked by Yanic Dupelessis coming out and some of the vitriol that was spewed on social media after his announcement.
I talked about adversities I’ve faced in my life and opened up about the suicide of my first boyfriend, something that I kept buried for the past five years. All those emotions came rising up and big bad Dan the Flyera Fan broke down on air. While it may not have been the high point of my career, I feel as though it’s a good opportunity to educate people that their words and actions towards someone who is different can have negative ripple effects and potentially end in tragedy.
Even all these years later not a day goes by when I don’t think about him. Sometimes I’ll get good news and my first though will be “I gotta tell Carson” then I remember. Every once in awhile he’ll show up in a dream and I wake just completely devastated. There was even a time a few months back when I was in line at Wawa and I realized the guy in front of me looked just like him from behind. Same height, build, hair, hat, and time froze for a minute. It felt like a scene in a movie. Then he turned around and it obviously wasn’t him and I was shook to my core after that encounter, it took me days to get out of that fog. It felt like some kind of shell shock. I don’t know if I believe in any kind of religion or afterlife, but I know he’s still around. His ghost is still here, his memory is still here. There’s not a doubt in my mind. I do this for him. I carry on for him and his family. They were so supportive, hell I’m closer with his parents to this day that I ever was with my own. Telling our story isn’t something I ever planned on doing, but his death shouldn’t be in vain. If I, if we, can change even one person’s mindset, then it all has meaning.
One of the other really cool experiences I’ve had in the past year was having the opportunity to interview then-Phantoms forward Kurtis Gabriel. I first met Kurtis during the Phantoms training camp, one of the few times in my life I was ever truly starstruck. Standing in front of someone who is carrying the banner for equality in hockey was a great experience and knew I wanted to interview him some day. I had my chance during the early days of quarantine when I reached out to him on Twitter and he graciously took time out of his day to talk to Jim and I (which you can listen to here). Not only was I incredibly nervous, he was one of the first people I ever interviewed. Since his appearance on the show in early spring we’ve had dozens and dozens of guests from across the league on and interviewing big guests has become second nature, so maybe one day we’ll have to bring him back on and try again.
I can’t thank Kurtis enough for the work he does. He does something that a vast majority of people don’t- Listen. He’s willing to get uncomfortable, listen to people, learn and deploy his understanding to others. I wish more people were as willing to change as he was, and not just in hockey, but in everyday life. All I, and every other person in my shoes wants is to feel accepted. Inclusivity is still the endgame, and while it’s slowly getting better, there’s a lot of ground left to cover. It was inspiring to get to watch him every night in Lehigh Valley and see that famous pride taped stick in person. Thank you, Kurtis, for everything.
I’ve always considered myself a leader, whether I wanted to be or not. Rising to the occasion is kind of my M.O. Sitting on the sidelines just isn’t my style, thus I take the responsibility of being a gay man in hockey seriously. You could say I take a lot of pride in it. There’s still plenty of growing the hockey community needs to do to accept anybody that isn’t a straight white male. I will continue to do my part to help grow the game, tell my stories, and listen to others who are on the frontlines of the fight as we, together, can truly make the sport of hockey for everyone.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
Photo credit: daniel.esche instagram