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Sports Stars Set to Attend Pride Celebrations in Chicago & Toronto

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Brendan & Brian Burke.

Fresh on the heels of its appearance at the National Hockey League (NHL) draft in Los Angeles, the next stop for the Stanley Cup – hockey’s ultimate prize – is Chicago’s LGBT Pride Parade.

The Chicago Gay Hockey Association (CGHA) has invited the Chicago Blackhawks – this year’s Stanley Cup champions – to join the group at this year’s LGBT Pride celebration.  Blackhawks President John McDonough will reroute the Stanley Cup from the NHL draft in L.A. to Chicago, 15 hours earlier than planned to make the event.

“We are thrilled and honored for them to consider and accept our request,” said CGHA President Andrew Sobotka.  “It’s just the news we wanted to hear.  For the Blackhawks to do this is amazing.  It is wonderful to know everyone is helping to make 2010 a year to break down barriers.”

“The power of the Cup is incomprehensible, and we recognize the importance of doing this,” said McDonough.  “It’s important for the city and important for this franchise.”

Blackhawks defenseman Brent Sopel will carry the Cup along the parade route.  Sopel will be joined by his wife, Kelly, and the couple’s four children.  The CGHA, who usually rollerblade or march in the parade, have built a float this year specifically for Sopel and his family.

Sopel will carry the Cup in honor of Brendan Burke, the son of Toronto Maple Leafs President and General Manager Brian Burke.  Brendan was tragically killed in a weather-related car accident last February, just two years after telling his father that he was gay.

“When Brendan came out, Brian stood by him, and his whole family stood by him, like every family should,” said Sopel.  “We teach our kids about accepting everybody.”  (Here you can read more about the Burkes’ journey, movingly chronicled by John Buccigross of ESPN.)

Brian Burke will  be marching in Toronto’s Pride Parade. Walking with the Toronto chapter of PFLAG – Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays – Brian will carry a torch in his son’s memory.

Last summer, Brian and Brendan attended the Toronto festival as spectators.  “It was cool to be there with him [Brendan],” said Brian.  “I enjoyed it.  We both laughed.  I said to Brendan, ‘Who do you think is more embarrassed: you watching with your straight dad, or me watching with my gay son?’ It was a fun moment.”

In addition to Brian Sopel’s participation, the Chicago Cubs will also have a float in the city’s Gay Pride Parade for the first time.  The Cubs themselves have a game to play during the parade, but will send hall-of-fame player Ernie Banks in their absence.  The Cubs’ participation in the parade has added significance in that theirs will be the first float sponsored by any major Chicago sports team.

GLAAD is thrilled to see such prominent figures from the world of sports stepping up to show their support of LGBT people in such visible ways.  We urge the media to report on the significance of these  landmark advances in support of total equality.

The Chicago 41st Annual Pride Parade is scheduled for Sunday, June 27th at noon.  For more information, click here.

The Toronto 30th Annual Pride Parade kicks off on July 4th at 2:00 p.m. For more information, click here.