When you think of a community hero connected to sports diversity, Jeff Kagan is one who immediately comes to mind. He’s long been involved in the LGBT sports community in the New York City (NYC) area, both as an athlete and as co-founder of the NYC Gay Hockey Association and the NYC Gay Basketball League.
He’s also a co-founder of Out of Bounds NYC, an umbrella organization supporting all LGBT sports and recreation groups in the greater NYC area as well as a contributing writer to a number of magazines, including Compete. But being a courageous leader, founding and contributing to the on-going growth of gay sports in his community wasn’t always the case for this hockey-loving athlete.
Following the founding of the You Can Play Project (YPC) intended to make locker rooms a safe environment for all athletes, Jeff wrote a piece for Compete about what YCP meant to him. He shared his early fear of coming out. “Covered head-to-toe in all of my gear, I felt invincible. But deep inside where no hockey gear could protect me, I was still vulnerable due to a part of my life that I had yet to reveal to my teammates, my friends or my family. I was gay.” He worried that if his secret got out, he’d no longer be able to play hockey, saying “… it is a feeling that I will never forget.”
Jeff eventually traveled to Canada to play in the Toronto Gay Hockey Association’s Friendship Tournament and for the first time felt a sense of belonging that enabled him to let down his guard and play the game he loved. He wrote that those four days were “… the very beginning of my journey, not just toward opening the closet door but toward finding real happiness in my life.”
After his second year playing in the tournament, one of the tournament directors asked him to write a short article on “What Gay Hockey Means to Me.” Jeff agreed, figuring that no one in Toronto would know who he was. But when he returned home Jeff Minck, one of his NY teammates told him he’d read an online article by a gay hockey player from NYC named Jeff Kagan and wanted to know if he was that Jeff Kagan.
As Jeff felt a panic attack coming on, Minck shared that he was also gay. The fact that there were two gay men playing on the same hockey team was a revelation to them; their personal sense of isolation as the “only gay player” vanished. They celebrated by forming a gay hockey league in NYC modeled after the group in Toronto. Holding their first meeting on July 29, 1999, according to Jeff, “new players started coming out of the woodwork.”
Jeff’s commitment and contributions to sports diversity have only continued to grow over the years. Married to Joel Pascua in 2013, the couple moved to New Jersey where they knew no one. True to form, Jeff and Joel cofounded the Jersey Out Bowling league, picking up 30 new friends in the process.
But the move to New Jersey hasn’t stopped Jeff’s commitment to the gay sports groups in NYC. Still director for the NYC Gay Hockey Association, he’s also on the organizing committee for the group’s Sweet Sixteen celebration of their annual Chelsea Challenge tournament on Memorial Day weekend. He says they’ve lined up all sorts of fun things like a photo booth, colorful t-shirts and other “stuff.” And he continues to organize meetings for hockey, Out of Bounds and bowling.
Thanks to Jeff, places for NYC gay athletes to play openly have come a long way since that first NYC Gay Hockey Association meeting in 1999. Jeff has been celebrated for providing an inclusive sports environment free from discrimination for members and friends of the LGBT sports community by many, including Compete Magazine who honored him as its first Athlete of the Year in 2008. He’s also been featured in “Jocks 2” by Dan Woog and in “Outsports Revolution: Truth and Myth in the World of Gay Sports” by Cyd Zeigler Jr. and Jim Buzinski. Jeff Kagan is a true community hero.
Photo courtesy of Patrick Chin-Hong
Community Heroes is a regular feature in Compete Magazine. Nominate deserving individuals by emailing us at [email protected] and include a brief biography of or a link to your nominee.
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