For the first time, Saskatchewan Rush will be sporting a Pride jersey in support of the LGBTQ community at a matchup with the Vancouver Warriors at Saskatoon's SaskTel Centre Saturday.
But when the Saskatoon-based lacrosse team announced that drag artist Karma K, who is transgender, would perform the halftime show at the game, comments on social media, including Twitter and Reddit, quickly became hateful and transphobic.
Tyler Wawryk, director of business operations for Saskatoon Entertainment Group — which owns and operates both Saskatchewan Rush and the Saskatoon Blades hockey team — said those who contribute to anti-trans backlash are part of a small minority of people.
"We saw a lot of online backlash prior to our Blades Pride [event] back in November, and when we opened up the doors for the game, there was zero issue," Wawryk said.
"Everybody that came out was very supportive, and in fact we had a lot of new fans come out and enjoy the night for the first time. So I'm confident that we'll have a similar event this Saturday."
Warwyk said the organization started being more vocal about Pride after a junior hockey player came out publicly in 2021.
"That really kind of sparked that conversation amongst our organization, giving us that opportunity to have those conversations with our staff and our players," said Wawryk.
He said Rush lacrosse players are 100 per cent on board with Saturday's Pride game.
The game isn't the first time trans rights have been a hot topic in Saskatoon. There have been ongoing protests outside the Shaw Centre after a social media post indicating a trans woman tried to use a women's changeroom at the centre was widely circulated online. Counter-protests have also been held at the centre in response.
Local drag king and trans-rights activist Blake Tait has led the counter-protest each Saturday for the last three weeks, and said the trans-rights activists always outnumber the opponents, who he called "the loud minority."
"I have been trying to use my platform as a drag performer in an advocacy light, and have brought a counter-protest to them every time, so they know that ... they do have opponents"
Tait said he's happy to see Saskatchewan Rush hold a Pride event.
"It's exciting that our local teams are still supporting drag and understanding that drag is something that's for everyone, and it is just another form of entertainment in the same way that your cheerleaders are a form of entertainment."
Escalation of anti-transgender language
Regina resident Cat Haines, executive director of the transgender advocacy organization JusticeTrans, said there's been a troubling escalation in the language being used by those opposing trans rights.
"We see a lot of language around things like the great replacement theory and grooming, and this idea that trans activists and trans people are trying to groom children into having a trans identity and prevent them from having children later," said Haines.
"We also see a lot of language around calling trans women in particular predators and perverts," Haines said.
Tait said this kind of language is very hurtful to the trans community.
"It's definitely been something that has been really tough. For me, as well as the community around me, it's hard for us to see the language that people are using about us when we are just trying to live our lives," he said.
Haines said the goal of anti-trans language and protests is to push trans people out of public life.
"The goal is to make it so that when you see somebody that you think is trans, you feel disgust and fear and repulsion, and you want to actively push them away from you and have them be out of sight and out of mind," she said.
Besides this being hurtful to trans individuals, it also makes it more difficult for them to interact with trans youth.
"It really breaks this link and intergenerational community by making it so that trans youth ... don't have the role models and the visibility of older trans adults. They really deserve to know that they can live a really good life and a long life," said Haines.
Keeping the conversation going
Wawryk said negative and transphobic comments just confirmed to Saskatchewan Rush why it's so necessary to do initiatives like the Pride game.
"We wanted to have that strong visual of of going out onto the field and and having these jerseys and ultimately creating a message of inclusion and equality," Wawryk said.
He said sports have the ability to bring everyone together, and that's what the team aims to do on Saturday.
"We want to be able to open our doors to fans to come in and hopefully be inspired and feel they too can get on the field or pick up the ball and and be a part of the team as well. And ultimately be able to be themselves while they do that and not have to feel ashamed," said Wawryk.
Meanwhile, Tait and Haines said now is the time to check in on trans friends, as they're strong, but don't have all the strength needed to deal with the constant vitriol.
"Finding moments of joy and love with the trans people in your lives is so important. And remembering that their lives are so much larger and richer than just their gender," Haines said.
Wawryk said those who attend on Saturday night will be treated to a "really cool" show.
"We're really showing that representation, that there are people in our community with these talents ... we're proud to be able to give them that opportunity and that platform to showcase their skills and talents."