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Representation on Ice
An interview with Luke Prokop, the first openly gay hockey player under contract with the NHL
We’re here. These two words are a reminder that we—anyone who has ever felt different, abnormal, ostracized—exist. When I began work on my debut novel Last Boyfriends (publishing Summer 2024 from Delacorte Press / Penguin Random House), those two words were my driving force as anti-LGBTQ+ policies targeted teens. I was angry. Ready to fight back. I worked through these emotions by writing from the perspective of a seventeen-year-old in small-town Alabama who does just that. Now, this anger has strengthened into resilience and refusal to let anyone keep us from realizing we deserve to be here too. That’s why I started the WE’RE HERE newsletter as a resource for you, for myself, for anyone who doesn’t feel like they belong.
I wanted to write something special for this inaugural issue, but I wasn’t sure how to approach the vast topic of representation. Then I thought of my main character in Last Boyfriends. He’d turn to his favorite hockey player for guidance, and so I did the same. As I looked to the sport for inspiration, a specific rule caught my attention: players may not enter the referee crease, a designated area where officials review and analyze plays while game time is stopped, unless given permission. The more I thought about it, the more I realized we are our own referee in life. We get to stand inside our safety zone and look at what we’ve done. It is here that we are able to hide parts of ourselves while the game is stopped, a timeout for the multitudes of who we are. No one is allowed inside until we give them permission to truly know us.
Hiding parts of ourselves is common to everyone, especially the LGBTQ+ community. We have to stand in that safety zone and review our every move. This is how we exist, watching ourselves from the outside while simultaneously trying to play the game, until we let someone know the real us. For hockey star on the rise Luke Prokop, current defenseman for the Norfolk Admirals and prospect for the Nashville Predators, he let his trusted inner circle in and came out to them with the intention of one day going public. Then the pandemic gave him a new perspective on life. And so, on July 19, 2021, he invited the world to see his true self. This decision reverberated through the hockey community, bringing with it the realization that we’re here—queer hockey players and fans who deserve to be represented on the ice.
I was fortunate enough to chat with Prokop on representation as he reflects on his journey since that fateful day.
MH: How does it feel being the first openly gay player under contract with the NHL?
LP: That’s a hard one because I know I’m definitely not the first gay player to sign a contract or play in the NHL. There have been many before me and will be lots after me. But it is really cool to see how a huge community can get behind you and really wish you nothing but the best.
MH: More than a year has passed since you allowed the public inside your life. How have you changed?
LP: I think I have shown a lot more of my personality to everyone and am totally comfortable getting questions from friends, family, and strangers.
MH: How has the LGBTQ+ community welcomed you?
LP: With giant queer arms. I’ve been so lucky to have been able to connect with so many queer individuals from around the world.
MH: Since coming out, have you found any role models in the community?
LP: My good friend Brock McGillis (former ice hockey goaltender and LGBTQ+ advocate) is always going to be one for me.
MH: What have you learned since coming out?
LP: Not everybody is going to understand you, and I’m ok with being misunderstood.
MH: When feeling overwhelmed, scared, or nervous, what gives you the courage and strength to power through?
LP: The fact that I have faced so much tougher things in life, coming out in a sport with no real progression in inclusivity.
MH: You became a fan of Shea Weber while watching the 2010 Winter Olympics, and in turn Weber’s team, the Nashville Predators. Now you’re a prospect. How have the Preds welcomed you?
LP: They did such a great job making me feel welcomed when I told them I was gay. Having members from the team reach out, making sure I’m comfortable in interviews, etc.
MH: You’ve opened doors to the sport of hockey, allowing LGBTQ+ fans to feel welcomed in a sport that at one time felt the opposite. How have you seen that change as a player on the ice?
LP: I have nothing but positive things to say about my teammates and opponents after playing a full year since coming out. They have been open and honest with any questions they have, made me feel welcomed, had opponents come up and talk to me before the game telling me that they are so proud of me. In Edmonton (where he played for the Edmonton Oil Kings), we had a Pride Night. It was the first in the team’s history. It was a huge deal, and many of the players really got a feel for how many queer fans there are.
Atavistic, an adjective relating to reversion, has been used to describe the culture of hockey. This sport, like most sports, has had barriers against the LGBTQ+ community. When Prokop made his announcement, he gave fans the permission to exist in their multitude of ways and welcomed them to stand with him as a gay hockey player.
However, Prokop’s existence is more than that. He refers to himself as a kind, old soul who doesn’t give a crap what anyone thinks about him. Off the ice, the first thing he wished people knew about him is that he’s quite shy when you first meet him. He plays video games and values time with his friends and family. He enjoys going on walks, watching Grey’s Anatomy, listening to Frank Ocean, and reading. His favorite book is Beartown by Fredrik Backman, which centers on a declining youth hockey team in a small town. It’s no coincidence that this is his pick. The book summary states, “Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain.” Prokop is that individual who goes against the grain. At 20 years old, he has broken barriers and become a role model for those struggling to be seen.
MH: You’ve become a role model for the LGBTQ+ community, and it’s important for teens to see representation in all aspects. As you’ve said, representation matters and everyone who comes out gives those who are not a sense of hope. Have you witnessed this sense of hope since coming out?
LP: I woke up one morning to a DM on Instagram from a 15-year-old teen, who told me that he came out because of me. He was playing hockey and wanted to be comfortable with himself. It’s amazing seeing the impact I have had on the community.
MH: What advice would you give to LGBTQ+ teens?
LP: If in the closet, go day by day. Don’t feel the need to tell everyone all at once, you choose who to tell and when. If out, make sure you surround yourself with good, trustworthy people who make you feel like you can be yourself.
MH: What are your thoughts on the book bans, “don’t say gay” laws in schools, and the like affecting LGBTQ+ teens?
LP: I think it’s horrible and will affect queer youth emotionally, physically, and mentally.
MH: What’s next in your journey of living your life authentically?
LP: Continuing to play hockey and grow my game while growing as an individual. I’m still very young, only 20 years old, but just looking forward to what the world has in store for me.
And what the world has in store for Prokop is limitless. He has let the world know who he is, and it’s a reminder that we’re here. When he takes to the ice, it’s an inspiration for all those watching. It’s the reason I wrote this inaugural issue, the reason I wrote a queer hockey hero in my debut Last Boyfriends who gives my main character the courage to be himself. That’s what Prokop is doing—giving others the strength to be here, too.
You can follow Luke Prokop’s NHL career here and discover more LGBTQ+ resources from The Trevor Project here.
About the Author:
My name is Matthew Hubbard, and I’m an author represented by Katie Shea Boutillier with Donald Maass Literary Agency. I started the WE’RE HERE newsletter as a guide for queer and ally individuals highlighting book news, inspirational interviews, and awareness that we’re here to make difference. My debut novel Last Boyfriends will publish Summer 2024 from Delacorte Press / Penguin Random House. It’s a coming-of-age novel pitched as Heartstopper meets The First Wives Club in which three queer teenage boys in small-town Alabama set out to get revenge on their ex-boyfriends and end up fighting their school's anti-LGBTQ+ initiatives. Stay tuned for more details!
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