Photos: supplied.

‘Every letter is welcome’: Melbourne’s inclusive ice hockey club

Australia’s first queer ice hockey club is giving the community an inclusive space to play an exciting sport.

The Southern Lights Ice Hockey Club in Melbourne was founded in 2019 as part of Australian LGBT Ice Hockey.

Founding member and former president Carl Jackson says that from its beginnings with only a handful of players, the club has rapidly grown to include around 80 people. 

“There was already quite an established queer community within the ice hockey fan base,” says Jackson.

“People were looking for this sort of team.

“They wanted somewhere that they could just be comfortable being themselves.”

The group includes people of all kinds of backgrounds, from experienced hockey players to those who have felt excluded from team sports in the past.

Recognisable by their distinctive rainbow penguin jerseys, the Southern Lights welcome players of all sexualities and genders.

The club considers important elements that others might not, such as making changerooms safe and inclusive for gender diverse players.

“Every letter is welcome – every member of the queer community is welcome in our club,” says Jackson.

His own journey to playing ice hockey started as the “typical gay kid” who felt alienated from sports by “masculine guys who were bullying the crap out of me”. 

He discovered ice hockey in his early thirties, and going from fan to club co-founder gave him the confidence to enjoy playing the sport.

‘Slightly odd people’

Jackson has found that queer ice hockey players are often people who are also drawn to other alternative sports such as roller derby.

“You’re not trying to get entry into such an entrenched, established culture,” he says.

“In something like AFL or cricket, they’ve got such huge fan bases and an entire culture built around them already, you don’t get the kind of slightly odd people who gravitate towards more niche sports.”

Jackson says a big draw of ice hockey is that it is a “ridiculously fast” sport and easy to learn.

“It’s got a really low barrier to entry in terms of understanding it,” he says.

“It’s just people moving at lightning speed… it’s very action-packed and exciting to play and watch.”

The Southern Lights have embarked on a mission of educating fans about LGBTIQA+ culture and history.

The design of their beginner team jerseys incorporates the trans and bisexual pride flag colours, along with numbers signifying important dates, such as 69 for the 1969 Stonewall riots.

‘Get on the ice and try it out’

In January, the club will go up against Sydney’s Harbour Lights in a special Pride Cup match.

The Southern Lights will hold a series of “come and try” events in 2022.

“Anyone with any level of experience can come along,” says Jackson.

“We’ll show you how to put on your hockey gear and skates and run through some basic hockey stuff like moving forwards and backwards, shooting a puck, and things like that.

“Without having to invest in gear or lessons, people can get on the ice and try it out.”

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