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Before they polish their power plays and develop their defensive strategies, minor hockey players in Ontario will be getting a pre-season chat about gender identity and gender expression next month.

The Ontario Hockey Federation, which oversees the majority of minor hockey in the province, said it has made it mandatory for its coaches to discuss the issues with players in an effort to make everyone feel welcome.

“This is about inclusiveness and respect,” said Phil McKee, executive director of the OHF.

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While hockey coaches in Canada already receive training on respect and gender inclusivity, the OHF said coaches in Ontario will now have to discuss issues such as preferred pronoun use and the importance of respecting an individual’s confidentiality with their players as the season begins in mid-September.

“We simply want to make sure that everyone feels included in hockey and can participate in the game in a safe and comfortable environment,” said McKee.

The move comes after the settlement of a case brought before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario in 2013 by Jesse Thompson, a transgender player who was 17 at the time.

He told the tribunal that he was outed when asked to use the dressing room that aligned with his birth gender – female – instead of the gender he identifies with. The settlement has led to new directives in the years since, with the pre-season chat being the latest.

As part of the new directive, the OHF said coaches have been provided with a checklist, prepared by LGBTQ advocacy group Egale Canada, of matters to discuss with their players and suggestions on how to best approach the topics.

Larry Pattison, a father to three children who used to play hockey and a former coach himself, said he welcomes the new OHF directive.

“I think it is fantastic, especially considering that this may not be taught in school for a little while under this government,” he said, referring to the Progressive Conservative government’s move to repeal the province’s modernized sex-ed curriculum while it conducts consultations on a new document.

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“As a father, I want my kids to come out of any education or any time on a team sport being inclusive and kind and understanding of everyone in the community,” said Pattison, who also a trustee on the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board.

“Some people like to be called a different name when you are talking about gender pronouns ... We need to be accepting of that and open to it.”

The North Toronto Hockey Association said it was looking forward to implementing the pre-season chats.

“This falls within our mandate as a minor hockey association to teach players not only hockey skills, but also respect,” said association president Claudio Tarulli.

Some, however, questioned whether volunteer coaches were the best people to conduct such discussions with players.

“(Gender diversity) is something that has to be addressed to a certain extent, but the difficulty is in asking our volunteers to do it,” said Dan Bailey Jr., president of Canadian Tire Hanover Falcons, a hockey organization in Ontario.

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Bailey Jr. said he worried that the new discussions could discourage some from volunteering to coach.

“Maybe if they had a go-to person in the federation that addressed the situation it would be better, he said. ”But to have the coaches do this on an individual basis, I think they may not get the results that they are hoping for.”

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