BUFFALO, N.Y. — The National Women’s Hockey League’s first transgender player scored a goal in his debut, and finally got an opportunity to hear his name announced over the PA system how he always felt it should.
And Harrison Browne got to hear it again after the final buzzer, when Buffalo forward was named the game’s second star in the Beauts’ 4-1 loss to the Boston Pride on Friday night.
“It was unreal,” Browne said. “I’ve never felt something like that before.”
That’s because up until the season-opening game Friday, the 23-year-old went by the name of Hailey Browne. That changed when he went public in announcing he prefers to be known as Harrison and identifies himself as a male in a story first published by ESPN .
“I was just excited,” said Browne, noting he had previously revealed his gender identity but had not changed his name. “I’ve been out for a long time. I’m not scared about it. It’s nothing new to me.”
Browne initially planned making the medical transition to being a man after completing his college career at Maine. Browne put that on hold in the spring of 2015, when he got an opportunity to play for the Beauts in the four-team NWHL’s inaugural season.
The only real hiccup on Friday occurred after the game, when Browne was cut off by a Beauts spokeswoman while beginning to answer a question regarding North Carolina’s law restricting the rights of LGBT people.
“We’re not going to answer that,” the spokeswoman said. “It’s about Brownie tonight.”
Asked if he had any issues over whether the NWHL was allowing him to express himself, Browne said: “No. I feel good.”
At that point, the official announced the session was over after 2 1/2 minutes.
NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan said she couldn’t comment because she was unaware of Browne’s news conference being cut short.
Rylan said she is not familiar with North Carolina’s transgender law, and added Browne — who is from Canada — might not be either.
This year, the NBA relocated its All-Star game and the NCAA relocated numerous tournaments out of North Carolina because of the law excluding gender identity and sexual orientation from local and statewide antidiscrimination protections. It also requires transgender people to use restrooms at schools and government buildings corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates.
Rylan said she is fully supportive of Browne’s decision to announce his gender identity, and hopes he can play a role in educating others.
“I think what Harrison has done for so many will make it more acceptable and allow others to feel comfortable,” she said.
Rylan said she is currently working on a policy to address transgender players because the league currently doesn’t have a rule. She said the policy would cover both transgender men and women.
The best part for Rylan was seeing Browne score on a short-handed breakaway.
“It felt like the stars were aligning for Harrison,” Rylan said, noting how the crowd erupted in cheers. “I don’t know if it would’ve been as easy for him five years ago.”
Beauts coach and former NHL player, Ric Seiling, said nothing’s changed in his approach toward Harrison, noting he’s always referred to the player as “Brownie.”
“This is Harrison’s decision and I support whatever they decide,” Seiling said. “The team has had no reaction. It’s still the same person that walks into that dressing room every day. It’s still the same person that puts on his skates the same way. There’s no difference.”