To Harrison Browne, hockey has always been a pivotal part of his life. He’s been in the rink for the past 15 years and currently plays for the Buffalo Beauts, a professional hockey team in the National Women’s Hockey League.
Last October, Browne came out saying he identified as male, which made him the first openly transgender professional athlete in the United States.
“I started to feel a really big disconnect between my personal identity and my professional identity,” Browne says. “Whenever I would hear my name announced … I just wanted to align it.”
He had come out privately to his friends and family while in college, and in his second year in the NWHL, he felt comfortable to come out publicly. In the months since, he says the support has been overwhelming.
“My teammates, my coaches and the league did a great job of just treating my like a regular teammate.”
Even though he identifies as male in a women’s league, he sees himself as just an athlete.
“Every time I go to the rink. I’m an athlete,” Browne says. “I don’t think of myself as a woman. I don’t think of my teammates as women. We’re athletes, we’re teammates and we’re friends.”
Since coming out Browne says he has received tweets and other messages of support on social media from fellow transgender athletes saying “they are so thankful that there’s somebody out there that did what they couldn’t.”
“I’m glad that I broke down a wall,” he says. “I’m glad that I was able to help people in need.”
Earlier this week Browne announced his retirement from professional hockey, looking forward to transitioning after the season is over. His decision to come out did play a factor in his retirement.
“I want to start transitioning and seeing myself in the mirror the way I see on the inside,” Browne says.
Browne’s season could come to an end soon as the Buffalo Beauts take on the New York Riveters in the semi-finals of the Isobel Cup playoffs Friday night. But, he’s not thinking about that.
“I don’t think it’s hit yet, but it definitely will hit me once the buzzer goes,” he says.
After the season ends, Browne will continue to work with the NWHL as the leader of the inclusion board. He hopes that going forward he can be an advocate, speak at conferences and help athletes feel included.
Until then, Browne is focused on playing his best hockey, and winning a championship.