January has been yet another warm month in North Carolina and across much of the rest of the nation. After a brief and sharp holiday week plunge, temperatures have consistently felt more like mid-March – or, at least, what mid-March used to feel like.
And while a globally warm winter certainly has some temporary advantages – especially for people living on the street and those trying to cope with temporarily inflated home heating costs – it’s hard not to be struck with a profound sense of unease at the rapid change afflicting the Earth’s biosphere.
Most of us attempt to carry on as best we can – either by choosing not to dwell on the existential environmental crises we face or by stubbornly or pigheadedly denying their existence – but the pall cast by the climate emergency and the long list of other crises afflicting our crowded and frequently violent world is undeniable.
Last week’s horrific police killing in Memphis and dozens of others like it for which we lack only the gruesome video record. America’s unceasing string of mass shootings. The ongoing spike in youth suicides and fentanyl overdoses. Domestic terror attacks on our electric system infrastructure. The epidemic of anti-Semitic, anti-Black, anti-AAPI, anti-Latino, anti-Muslim, anti-LGBTQ hate crimes. The daily reports of Vladimir Putin’s atrocities in Ukraine. Charlatan politicians across the globe who peddle division, exclusion, violence, and authoritarianism and package it as a commitment to religion and “traditional values.”
Increasingly, it seems, just consuming and absorbing the news on a daily basis – much less reporting or commenting on it– is a chore that requires an iron gut and nerves of steel.
And then, out of the blue, something happens to remind you that not all is lost; that most of your neighbors are decent human beings who love life more than they hate others; and that enlightenment and progress are still possible.
Eighteen-thousand-or-so people in Raleigh experienced such an event last Friday night at the PNC Arena during, of all things, a hockey game. It happened when the local National Hockey League team – the Carolina Hurricanes – hosted and celebrated “Pride Night.”
In keeping with a concerted if modest ongoing effort by the NHL across North America, the Hurricanes made the celebration LGBTQ acceptance, equality and pride the theme of an otherwise run-of-the-mill mid-season contest with the visiting San Jose Sharks. To that end:
- Rainbow symbols adorned the scoreboard and other electronic displays while cheerleaders waved rainbow flags and tossed rainbow-emblazoned T-shirts into the crowd.
- The Triangle Gay Men’s Chorus provided a stirring rendition of the national anthem.
- Video messages from corporate partners touting the benefits of inclusion helped fill breaks in play.
- Kids of local college LGBTQ groups staffed tables and distributed literature on the arena concourses.
- A diversity, equity, inclusion executive from the UNC healthcare system was honored as the evening’s “hero of the game” – a recognition usually reserved for visiting military vets.
- Music from LGBTQ artists and allies was blasted on loudspeakers during breaks rather than the usual hoary assortment of ’70s and ’80s metal band anthems.
- LGBTQ community leaders like Equality NC executive director Kendra Johnson were featured in silly between-period contests and waved to the crowd from the Zambonis that resurface the rink between periods.
And Pride Month doesn’t arrive until June.
The event was hardly unique or revolutionary. Scores of cities and sports franchises have been hosting such events for several years – even decades.
That said, while the Friday celebration appeared to go off without a hitch, a similar event earlier this month in Philadelphia provoked a boycott of sorts from a member of the local team who said his religious beliefs were offended. And while there were no audible or visible demonstrations of opposition on Friday, it appeared that there were at least a handful of curmudgeons sprinkled among the crowd — naysayers who will no doubt welcome the latest barrage of pro-discrimination legislation that’s sure to surface at the General Assembly in the coming days.
But, for the overwhelming majority of the evening, the dominant impression one got from the event was the simple and wholesome normalcy of it all. And it’s hard to see that as anything other than an instance of important societal progress.
Thirty years ago, such an event would have been a literal impossibility in North Carolina. Even just 10 or 15 years ago, it would have been an enormously risky move. In 2017, the Hurricanes cautiously branded a similar event with what they presumably calculated was a less controversial label of “Hockey in for Everyone Night.”
But in 2023, thank goodness, no such caution or half-measures were necessary. Instead, the large majority of an overwhelmingly white, privileged and conservative crowd of nearly 20,000 people received, accepted and cheered an uncensored and powerful message of hope and light while demonstrating that – at least in some small ways – progress is possible, and that love, acceptance and enlightenment can triumph over fear, hatred, and exclusion.
Next step: internalizing that spirit and urgently directing it toward an array of enormous challenges confronting our state, nation and planet at a very difficult moment in history.