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Transgender player makes history in Buffalo Beauts’ opener

The Buffalo Beauts were on a penalty kill, trailing the Boston Pride by four goals.

That’s when Harrison Browne battled for the puck, rushed the ice and scored, bringing thunderous applause from about 1,200 fans in HarborCenter on Friday night.

It was anything but a routine shorthanded goal.

Because for the first time, Browne heard the name he chose for himself. For the first time in a hockey game, his goal was announced as “Harrison” instead of “Hailey.”

“It was unreal,” he said. “I never felt something like that before.”

If only the goal had been a game-winner instead of the lone goal for the Beauts in a 4-1 loss. Then the script would have been perfect. But it was still a pretty big day for Browne, who earlier on Friday came out as the first openly transgender athlete to play for a professional team in the United States.

Browne, a native of Oakville, Ont., played for the Beauts last year under the name Hailey Browne, scoring 12 points with five goals. Browne played three collegiate seasons at Maine and won silver with Team Canada in the 2011 IIHF World Women’s Under-18 Championships.

Teammates had been using the masculine pronoun and called him “Harrison” all last year privately. Publicly, in media guides and stat sheets, Browne was still bound by a feminine identifier he no longer identified with.

He decided to change all that this year, coming out as a transgender male in several internet articles on Friday. He received a warm reception during player introductions and rousing applause after scoring the third-period goal.

“So supportive,” Browne said about the crowd. “It was the loudest I think I’ve heard it. More than last season. I’m loving the support. I was just excited. As I’ve said in some articles, I’ve been out for a long time. I’m not scared about it. It’s nothing new to me.”

It’s nothing new for the team, either. Browne has been out to family and friends since his sophomore year of college.

“Team had no reaction,” said Beauts coach and general manager Ric Seiling. “Still the same person that walks in that dressing room every day. Still the same person that puts on the skates the same way. There’s no difference.”

NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan said the league is working on creating a trans policy with the group You Can Play, which will cover both transgender men and transgender women. She said Browne was happy to talk publicly about being a transgender athlete to help educate others.

“I think that what Harrison has done for so many will make it more acceptable and allow others to feel comfortable,” Rylan said. “I think it’s pretty special even as a small league like we are that we were able to take sports and the players and even the media and allow us to talk about these social issues and allow other people to feel more comfortable coming out and being their true self and I think that’s pretty special we’ve been able to be a platform and also a resource maybe for others if they don’t know what to expect or if this is new territory for them.”

There was a glitch to that idea of allowing the league to talk about social issues. In the postgame media scrum, Browne was asked about the issue of transgender in the country and specifically about the anti-transgender laws in North Carolina. He started to answer but was cut off by public relations staff who said they weren’t going to talk about that right now.

“I guess we’re just going to keep it at that,” Browne said with a smile on his face.

email: amoritz@buffnews.com

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