Standing on the Line is many things, but it may be best characterized as ahead of its time.
Directed by Paul-Émile d’Entremont, the film depicts the struggles that many Canadian gay and queer athletes have endured in coming out while entrenched in the world of professional sport.
The Nova Scotia-raised d’Entremont, who now lives in Vancouver, has candid conversations with a host of current and former athletes who found their way out of the closet, often in heartbreaking fashion.
Speedskater Anastasia Bucsis, for instance, who came out publicly in opposition of Russia’s anti-LGBTQ laws before competing at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi for Team Canada.
And then there’s former Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder David Testo, who recalls coming out shortly after leaving the game, becoming the first male American professional soccer player to do so.
Testo has some gut-wrenching scenes with his mother wherein they recall how he told her of his sexual orientation to her utter disbelief.
But the conversation in the film that shows more than any other the challenge that the sports community has in reducing the stigma that LGBTQ athletes face comes a little more than halfway through the film.
That’s when former Ontario Hockey League goaltender Brock McGillis speaks to members of the Quebec Major Junior League’s Saint John Sea Dogs, the first team in the league to support the You Can Play Project.
McGillis asks the Sea Dogs players to raise their hands if they’ve ever said anything homophobic. None of them do. He asks again, a little more forcefully. Eventually, most if not all of the players raise their hands.
Of course it serves to prove the stigma that still remains in sports, the same one that clouded the careers of all the athletes profiled in the film.
While there have been high profile cases of players in the NBA and NFL who have come out of the closet, the film’s focus on Canada is a stark reminder that no NHL players have done so while they were in the league.
At some point, it’ll happen. But for now, stories like those in Standing on the Line are a stirring reminder of why it hasn’t.