The company behind the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors, Toronto FC and Toronto Argonauts is committed to ensuring their sporting events and venues are safe spaces for everyone…
The excitement surrounding Pride Month has grown in recent years, and many sports leagues and teams are using “Pride nights” to help raise the visibility and acceptance of 2SLGBTQ+ people – as well as sell them tickets – while creating a sporting environment that is welcoming to everyone. These nights can include special merchandise, information tables and performances, and they’re largely a hit. In Canada, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) has been leading the way with key initiatives to ensure that all fans can feel welcome and safe in their spaces year-round.
MLSE is the parent company of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs, the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, MLS’s Toronto FC, as well as the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts – and as one of the premier sports and entertainment organizations in Canada, they recognize the importance of not only ensuring all fans can feel welcome and safe in their spaces, but also celebrate the diversity that makes Toronto fans world class.
“Everyone has a right to feel safe, whether they are engaging with sports inside or outside of our venues,” MLSE’s Chief People and Inclusion Office Teri Dennis-Davies told IN. “We recognize that sport is more than just a game – it can transcend differences and has the unique power to unite people together while on the court, ice, field or in the stands. We acknowledge our responsibility to leverage sport and our platform to set an example of inclusivity while being intentional about uplifting the 2SLGBTQIA+ as a group that has historically been left out of the conversation.”
In April this year, both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors hosted their annual Pride Games in support and celebration of the 2SLGBTQ+ community. The games included performances highlighting talent from the 2SLGBTQ+ community such as Vision Drag, Forte Chorus and a Vogue Battle Ballroom, while the proceeds from the teams’ Pride apparel collections were donated to local queer Toronto-based organizations.
“As an organization, it is important to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Marlies to foster an environment that respects all individuals of diverse sexual and gender identities,” the Maple Leafs wrote on their Culture Nights website leading up to the April 4 event. “We have a responsibility to ensure our game is safe and welcoming for all to participate in. We are proud to celebrate Pride and the 2SLGBTQ+ community, and creating a safe space for individuals to be their authentic selves.”
More recently, Major League Soccer’s Toronto Football Club (TFC) hosted their annual Pride Match on May 17. This season, TFC also teamed up with Common Goal to commit to the Play Proud initiative to promote inclusion in preparation for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, with Toronto being one of the host cities. Common Goal aims to “inspire everyone in football to collaborate towards an equal and sustainable future for all,” while Play Proud is a grassroots-driven program that works with all stakeholders in soccer to make communities and stadiums a safer space for the 2SLGBTQ+ community. It aims to transform soccer clubs and organizations around the world by equipping coaches and staff with the skills and knowledge to ensure that 2SLGBTQ+ inclusion is championed, on and off the pitch.
TFC joined the Play Proud initiative to prioritize the 2SLGBTQIA+ community by joining a cohort of other clubs to learn best practices and improve policies, says Dennis-Davies. “We hope our commitments through Play Proud will help galvanize others to join us in this space.”
That commitment meant fans and supporters identifying as part of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community had the opportunity to collaborate with MLSE on workshops, elements of their Pride Match, educational training sessions and more. As well, TFC is working with MLSE Foundation to give fans the chance to have exclusive access to the clubs.
Coming up later this summer, the Toronto Argonauts will also hold their Pride Game at BMO Field in August. Fans can look forward to in-stadium performances and unique offerings for this game.
But what happens after the Pride celebrations end? Dennis-Davies says MLSE is continuing to ensure their sporting events and venues are safe spaces for everyone.
“The MLSE Foundation continues to identify the 2SLGBTQIA+ demographic as a priority in public grant making, and concentrates on this community in our Change The Game Research to help minimize barriers to participation and access,” says Dennis-Davies. “We continue to work to provide equitable access to sport and opportunity on the playing field, because we believe that it leads to success and opportunity off the playing field.”
One of the ways MLSE ensures 2SLGBTQIA+ fans feel welcome and safe in their spaces year-round is by providing additional training to guest services representatives before all games in their venues, to ensure foundational knowledge regarding gender and sexuality. Further, all MLSE staff are required to undergo EDI learning and development training – and staff, MLSE suppliers and fans are expected to abide by MLSE’s code of conduct, to ensure game experiences are more equitable, accessible, diverse and inclusive in all equity-deserving groups.
Finally, MLSE will continue to collaborate with the community to put on some great events this year. Some events from last season include the Marlies Pride Game Queer Family Skate, Real Sports Leafs Pride Game Viewing Party, and the inaugural Defenders of 2SLGBTQIA+ Human Rights youth conference.
“As an organization, we will continue to advance our efforts to achieve full inclusion, which includes ongoing policy review, staff training and access to more equitable spaces and opportunities,” says Dennis-Davies.
“We also recognize that there may be fans who prefer a more private sports experience, and will continue to create bespoke experiences such as dedicated viewing parties for the 2SLGBTQIA+ community in particular. For example, at our last Pride Night at Real Sports during the Maple Leafs game, we welcomed over 300 queer-identifying fans to watch the game together during a night of drag performances, special giveaways, food features and more. It is important for us to meet people where they are.”
Go sports, go!