As a part of this series, we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Elena Pérez.
Elena Pérez was born and raised in Quito, Ecuador. She holds a Law degree from Universidad San Francisco de Quito and an LL.M degree from University College London. She has had the luxury of living in many different places in the world and experiencing the wonders of getting to know other cultures. Aside from her beloved Ecuador, she´s lived in Switzerland, UK, USA, and Spain. She finds immense joy and satisfaction in having created and running The Hip Hat, a purpose-driven business with the clear mission of creating sustainably handcrafted headwear and fashion accessories that inspire and tell stories. Elena defines herself as a woman in a constant state of creation, be it ideas, products, businesses, or stories. She´s also an avid reader who will devour a good book. She´s happily married to the man of her dreams and the mother of two wonderful boys.
In November of 2016, Brock made the decision to come out as gay publicly after trying for the majority of his life to be “normal” and fit in with the other players around him. Having been subjected to a lifetime of “locker room talk” while coming up in the hockey world, Brock was shocked by the support and outpouring of DM’s and emails he received when coming out. From there Brock began working as a speaker and advocate working to humanize and share his experience with others who may be going through something similar. Beyond the LGBTQIA+ community, Brock wants to reach anyone and everyone who doesn’t feel like they belong, including people of different faiths, races, socially economic background. Brock McGillis is a former professional hockey player and one-of-a-kind hero changing the conversation and landscape of inclusivity in the world of sports starting with the next generation. His 100 day “Culture Shift Tour” spans across the country of Canada visiting 100 minor hockey teams to combat homophobia in the sport, as well as humanize, educate, and rally shift makers to take important strides to be a welcoming space for all.
Thanks so much for joining me today. Can you start off by sharing a little bit about ourself and where you played hockey.
I played in the OHL in Windsor, professionally in the US, and also in Europe. I came out as the first openly gay men’s professional hockey player. My journey since then has led me into advocacy and speaking roles. It has taken me down a path that was much bigger than I ever imagined and has helped me launch a speaking career. I now get to travel all around the country to speak.
Who was your biggest influence growing up and what did you learn from them that you still carry with you today?
My dad had a huge influence on me, but both of my parents and my brother played an important role in my life early on. My parents encouraged hard work, resilience, and the importance of passion in whatever I pursued. They didn’t mind if I failed, as long as I tried my best. My brother and I were both into sports, especially hockey, and our relationship was always competitive, but also very supportive. He was an incredible player.
Can you explain to our readers how it works in hockey? What does it mean to play professionally?
In professional hockey, there are several levels. The NHL is the highest, and both my brother and I played just below the NHL and then in Europe.
When did you realize you were gay?
It was a complex process. As early as six, I resonated with a gay character in a movie and questioned my identity. However, the homophobic language in locker rooms made me suppress all of it, leading to self-destructive behaviors and self-sabotage. At 23, I realized I had to accept myself to save my career and my life.
How did you manage your relationships while keeping your sexuality hidden?
After accepting my sexuality, I entered a closet phase where I dated a guy for three years without anyone knowing, using aliases to protect my identity. This was a challenging time in my life, as it involved living a double life and hiding who I really was.
What was one of your biggest fears that ended up being something you were catastrophized in your head?
In 2015, I was terrified that revealing my sexuality would ruin everything. I feared my clients, who were mostly hockey players, would leave, and I wouldn’t be able to be successful financially. I was pretty surprised after realizing people knew I was gay and still wanted to work with me. I started to observe their behavior, and even received apologies whenever they made homophobic remarks, which started to show me there was a gradual shift going on that you typically never see in a sport like hockey. One example that really stands out was when one of my athletes corrected another for using a homophobic slur during training, and made him do 50 push ups.
How has your perception of leadership evolved from your hockey days to your current role in advocacy?
In sports, leadership was about being the vocal leader or the hardest worker on the ice. Now, my role has transformed into being a resource, setting an example, and being a confidant. I’m always ‘on’ because I’m now a public figure, and my self-awareness has to be high because of the support and guidance I give people who reach out to me. Leadership now revolves around being more empathetic towards those who attack me, understanding they’re struggling with something too. My story is a gateway to discussing broader theme of inclusion. It’s more about uncovering and being true to your self. I want my impact as a leader to inspire others.
Is the term ‘queer’ appropriate to use in general conversation? I’ve understood it to have negative connotations, but I’ve noticed you use it pretty casually. Is this a shift in its acceptability, or does it depend on the context and the speaker’s intent?
‘Queer’ is a term that’s been reclaimed by the LGBTQ+ community. It’s more all-encompassing and easier to use than saying LGBTQ+ every time. It can be used as a slur, but in the context of the movement, it’s used positively. When addressing negative reactions, I engage in conversations to understand the person’s background and struggles. By understanding their pain, I aim to foster empathy and support, leading to a more inclusive and understanding environment.
Do you see the struggles of transgender individuals as part of the same conversation as sexuality?
The struggle with sexuality or gender identity is mainly internal, as nobody knows until you come out. This struggle is internalized, which is challenging. Unlike most marginalized communities, LGBTQ+ people often don’t have families from the same community to guide them through their oppression. While I don’t directly know the experience of someone who identifies as transgender, I can empathize based on similar societal reactions and misunderstandings that both gay and trans individuals face.
One of the hardest things in the world to do, is become yourself. Most people live their entire lives trying to be…
Tell us about your tour and the message you want to send.
I started a long tour across Canada, visiting 100 hockey teams in 100 days. The purpose was to be impactful and draw attention using my story as a catalyst to open up the conversations where it would normally be frowned upon to talk about. My story simply serves as a gateway. I received an overwhelming response, and it’s nice to see how many teams welcome having me come talk to the teams.
How has the response been to your tour, and what impact are you seeing?
The response has been amazing. I received a touching message from a parent whose son was deeply influenced by my story. These kinds of responses show the potential for real societal change. The tour is about having fun while learning and growing together. We’re creating an inclusive environment where mistakes are okay, and we can discuss them openly. The goal is to evolve the world through understanding and empathy.
What do you do professionally, and how has your career evolved?
Speaking has become my career. I get to travel and speak to corporations, schools, and at different types of events. This work has become a significant part of my identity. While initially, my identity revolved around being a gay hockey player, I now see it as just living openly, similar to what straight people do.
How do you handle the challenges and isolation that come with being a leader and public figure?
Leadership can be isolating, and I’ve faced attacks from both within and outside the LGBTQ+ community. I engage directly with anyone who criticizes to better understand their struggles, which often stem from their own internal battles. By understanding their pain, it helps me aim to foster empathy and support for them, not resentment. My approach is to call people in, not out, focusing on humanizing impact and creating inclusive spaces for growth and understanding.
How can people find out more about you and your tour?
Learn more: Culture Shift Tour
People can follow the tour at brockmcgillis.com/tour and connect with me on social media. I’m active on Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter at BrockMcGillis33, where I regularly post updates and engage with the community.