All the world’s a hockey rink for Jerome Veysset, who combines business as a pilot for Air France with his passion for hockey by traveling to play in LGBTQ+ hockey games and tournaments.”I’ve done many, many LGBT tournaments in North America — in Toronto, Boston, Montreal, Los Angeles, Las Vegas,” said Veysset, a 41-year-old goalie who flies Boeing 777 jets for the airline. “I remember 5-6 years ago I had friends from the Earthquakes, an LGBT team in San Francisco, they told me, ‘OK, Jerome, we are going to the Boston tournament and our goalie can’t make it, is it possible for you to come to be our goalie?’ I did it.”
Friday is NHL Pride Day and the League is celebrating it with posts on its social media platforms of players and Hockey Is For Everyone ambassadors wearing, holding, or using NHL Pride colors and encouraging members of the LGBTQ+ community to post using the #HockeyIsForEveryone tag. The NHL will collect and highlight the submissions through collages to demonstrate the size of the community and the level of its pride.
The world of LGBTQ+ hockey opened to the Veysset in 2006, shortly after he began playing the game. He always dreamed of playing hockey — partially inspired by longtime Montreal Canadiens forward Bob Gainey, a Hockey Hall of Famer who played a season in his hometown of Epinal, France, in 1989-90 — but lack of access to the sport in most of the country made doing so difficult.
Also, there were few openly LGBTQ+ players in the country. Veysset learned about the New York City Gay Hockey Association in 2006 and reached out to Jeff Kagan, the association’s co-founder, to talk hockey.
“A few months after I started (playing hockey), I just started being a pilot here in Paris and one of my first vacation flights was to New York,” Veysset said. “Of course, I sent a message to Jeff saying that, ‘I’m coming to New York next month and I really want to meet you to see what you do with your team, with your league.'”
Veysset’s schedule coincided with NYCGHA’s Chelsea Challenge international hockey tournament. Kagan told Veysset to bring his goalie gear across the Atlantic.
“Jerome was our first ‘international’ player,” Kagan said. “Technically, we had several teams from Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa, but we didn’t consider them so ‘international.’ Jerome was from Europe; now that’s international. We were so excited to have him play in the tournament, we promised him that if his team made it to the finals, we would not only play the American and Canadian national anthems (the tradition) but the French national anthem as well. I can’t remember if his team made it that first year, but when they did, we played the French national anthem, and he had the biggest smile I’ve ever seen.”
Veysset has since become a regular at the Chelsea Challenge, which was canceled this year because of the closure of New York’s Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers since March 13 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.
He also has been working to highlight hockey within the LGBTQ+ community in France and throughout Europe. He helped organize the hockey tournament at the 2018 Gay Games in Paris.
“About 98 percent of the players were straight but they were really happy to come to the tournament and participate on Team France,” he said. “I had two gay players from south and east of France, and I also had a transgender player from France; he was a goalie also. It was a way for me to find other gay players in France.”
Veysset said he’d like to see an LGBTQ+ hockey league in France, similar to the ones in New York, Montreal and Toronto, but figures that’s still years from becoming a reality.
“It’s still difficult to come out in that major sport, even in France,” he said. “We need to have more pro players in major sports in the (United States) to come out, not just ice hockey players but soccer because it’s big here. We need time. It may happen one day. I’d like to say it will happen one day. To have one French LGBT team would be wonderful, but I think it’s too early.”