Hockey mom's post highlights 'broom closet' for girls change room
Girls on boys teams often asked to change in cramped spaces, parents say
The handwritten sign taped to the arena door said "Girls dressing room."
But once the four female players took a look inside, they could only laugh. Only about four-by-eight feet in size, the room had no sink, no plumbing fixtures and not a single hook to hang a coat or towel.
Instead of a bench, there were a few plastic chairs. Where there would usually be a rubber floor to protect players' skates, there was only bare concrete, stained a rust-coloured brown.
It’s 2023 and girls on boys’ hockey teams are still being asked to get dressed in arena closets 🤦🏻♀️. This was the change-room for the Point Edward Blackhawks U15 girls competing at the South Huron Regional Silverstick today. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/HockeyIsNotForEveryone?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#HockeyIsNotForEveryone</a> <a href="https://t.co/LkCno55G3m">pic.twitter.com/LkCno55G3m</a>—@TaraJeffrey
"It was essentially a broom closet with four stacking chairs," said Liz Page, president of the Point Edward Minor Hockey Association. "I'm not sure that four hockey bags, four chairs and four girls would have even fit in there."
Page is a mother of one of the four girls on the Point Edward Black Hawks under 15 team, which played at the arena last weekend for a Silverstick qualifying tournament in the municipality of South Huron. There are four girls on the team, boys fill out the rest of the roster.
Page posted the video on Facebook and later gave permission for journalist Tara Jeffrey to share it on her X account, the social media platform better known by its former name Twitter.
Page told CBC News she didn't share the video to shame arena staff at the small community of Stephen Township, located about 40 kilomteres north of London, Ont. She understands they were trying to do their best to accommodate a visiting team with both male and female players.
She posted about it to highlight a problem she said persists in youth hockey: Proper dressing rooms for boys while girls are often asked to make-do with a makeshift space to change into their gear.
"We're pretty proud to have four girls playing and keeping up with the boys," said Page, whose husband coaches the team. "But we do encounter challenges with dressing rooms sometimes for sure."
Page also didn't put up her post to single out any one arena. She acknowledges that many small communities in Canada have older arenas at a time when basic arena upgrades are incredibly expensive. She does, however, want to point out that there remains work to be done before hockey becomes truly inclusive.
"In 2023 when Hockey Canada and OMHA (Ontario Minor Hockey Association) are constantly touting 'We can all play' and "Hockey is for everyone,' I think there should be some follow up around that. We shouldn't be showing up at arenas and be asked to make-do."
Dressing room rules differ
In September Hockey Canada updated its dressing room policy, calling for all minor hockey players to have "safe, inclusive, and equitable dressing spaces." The policy mentions dressing rooms with separate stall for players but also dressing "environments" which can be temporarily repurposed spaces.
The policy encourages hockey associations to provide accommodations for players who ask for separate dressing room spaces whether that request is for religious reasons or reasons related to gender identity.
The policy also asks players to arrive at arenas wearing a "base layer" which covers their bodies, so they only have to change into their skates and protective padding once they arrive at the arena.
Phillip McKee is executive director of the Ontario Hockey Federation (OHF), which is the largest of the 13 hockey organizations that operate under the Hockey Canada umbrella. The OHF has its own dressing room policy which was the subject of human rights complaint in 2015. The two policies are similar, but have some differences.
As part of the mediated settlement following that complaint, the OHF and Hockey Canada are working to come up with a new, combined set of dressing room rules. McKee is hoping those rules will be in place by the end of this winter hockey season.
While that's being ironed out, McKee said local hockey associations must strive to accommodate all player requests for separate dressing room spaces
"The goal is to create a safe inclusive environment where kids can have fun playing this sport," said McKee.
In the case of the Black Hawks last weekend, arena staff were able to find another dressing room for the girls to change.
"I think the arena staff had good intentions," said Page. "We kept our sense of humour about it, there were some laughs but at the end of the day we recognize that it's a problem for youth in sports that don't fit into the gender norms of the sport. I just think we can do better as a whole."
Last year, the Black Hawks' U18 team had a female goalie on a team where the rest of the players were boys, Page said. She often ended up changing in closets or bathrooms.
Page's daughter and her three female teammates play in a boys league because there aren't enough players in their community to support a girls-only team or league.
"For the most part, the boys treat them like they do their other teammates," she said.
Sometimes, female players from opposite teams are asked to share a change room, something male players are typically not asked to do for fear the emotions of a physical game could spill over into the dressing room, Page said.
"Boys aren't asked to combined teams or leagues in the dressing room, but girls are. It's puzzling."