Coachella Valley Pride Hockey: Local group on a mission to bring the sport to the LGBTQ+ community

Beyond the formation of their own amateur team, the organization exists to call out homophobia in the sport and to encourage more support from NHL and AHL teams in Southern California. 
The addition of new ice rinks in the valley provided opportunities for youth and adults to take to the ice. Seen here are the Twin City Narwhals, winners of the recreational division at the 2023 Greater Palm Springs International LGBT hockey tournament.

In Palm Springs, pride isn’t just a one-time celebration in November — it’s a year-round feeling. And one new organization is proving that by bringing the sport of hockey to the local LGBTQ+ community.

Paul O’Kane founded Coachella Valley Pride Hockey, an adult league for LGBTQ+ players and allies, last year. He met his husband 25 years ago at a gay hockey tournament in Toronto and has been organizing LGBTQ+ hockey tournaments and teams ever since.

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O’Kane and his husband both previously played at the Cathedral City Ice Castle, but when it closed in 2020, his husband was forced to drive all the way to Riverside to play.

When the couple heard that the Acrisure Arena was coming to town and that there would be a public skating rink, O’Kane sprang into action, quickly putting together the hockey group and LGBTQ+ tournament.

“By November of last year, we were able to get a booth at Palm Spring Pride to generate interest and recruit members,” he said. In March, he hosted the inaugural Palm Springs International LGBT Hockey Tournament, which welcomed teams and players from across the country and Canada.

“We had ten teams and even a team made up entirely of transgender players,” he said. “I’m already getting people hounding me about the next tournament.” 

O’Kane said he couldn’t be more thrilled with the reception the league has gotten. Although there were only eight official players on the team at first, they had 28 people sign up during last year’s pride celebration to get more information about the team, and they just opened registration for the fall season online.

“I was contacted by a young trans person who has fallen in love with hockey,” he said. “They’re taking lessons this summer, and we were able to help them learn about the equipment they need, and we’ll be recruiting them once they’re ready.”

Beyond the formation of their own amateur team, O’Kane said Coachella Valley Pride Hockey exists to call out homophobia in the sport and to encourage more support from NHL and AHL teams in Southern California. 

And as much as O’Kane loves the sport, he’s not blind to the homophobia and hate that can sometimes exist in the fan base and players.

This year, hockey teams like the Minnesota Wild opted against wearing pride jerseys and changing their logo to pride colors on social media, amid escalating right-wing attacks against LGBTQ+ people and organizations that support them. 

O’Kane said Coachella Valley Pride Hockey will be a voice for LGBTQ+ sports fans in southern California“. “We want to make sure the sports world is aware that if they turn their backs on us, we’re going to be noisy.” 

O’Kane takes this mission seriously. He doesn’t just call out sports organizations for anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments, he also promotes a safe and healthy environment on the team.

“It can be really scary if you’re a young LGBT person to walk into a hockey locker room,” he said.

No matter how confident you are in your identity or how long you’ve been out, O’Kane said, stepping into a typical locker room can be a minefield.

“All it takes is one person to say a slur just in conversation, and you get that tightness in your stomach, this nauseating feeling,” he said. “It brings you back to when you were 15, and all that anxiety and stress comes flooding back.”

But when members of Coachella Valley Pride Hockey are in the locker room, it’s a different story. “People have told me how comfortable and safe they feel in our locker room,” O’Kane said.

The league welcomes people of all identities, including straight allies.

“We have a good reputation,” O’Kane said. “We try to be supportive and nice to everyone.”


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