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Alex Valvo is a collegiate hockey referee who happens to be gay. He sees a link between his on-ice life, where referees exist to ensure fair play, and his off-ice life.
“All that referees want is a fair game between two teams,” he says. “And that’s all the LGBT community wants — the same fair treatment as everyone else in our everyday life.”
This is a big week for Valvo. He’s getting his graduate degree at one college commencement Wednesday and Saturday he’s an event planner for another one. Next week is also big: Monday he starts a job at an advertising firm.
Last week was big, too. That’s when Outsports.com published a first-person story in which Valvo told about how he worried what his fellow officials would think when he came out on Facebook 18 months ago. Would they still feel comfortable sharing the ice and a locker room with him?
Valvo didn’t have to wonder for long. Texts came so quickly he couldn’t keep up. The theme: “I’ll have your back no matter what.”
Family and friends embraced him too. He expected that from loved ones. And disparaging remarks were few. “A few idiots from my high school posted some stuff,” Valvo says, adding that one later apologized.
Valvo, 24, has been officiating hockey games since he was 12. “I traded in my stick for a whistle,” he says, “because I wasn’t a very good player.”
He is a good ref. This season Valvo ejected one high school player for using a gay slur against an opponent. He remembers when he was 15 or 16, and working a youth hockey game, he tossed out a coach for an infraction he can no longer recall. “I’ll say hi to your boyfriend in the lobby,” the coach said. It was a generalized slur of the kind too often heard in sports. That coach didn’t know Valvo was gay. Heck, Valvo wasn’t even sure of it himself at that point.
He says he came to his truth at Canisius College, a Jesuit school in Buffalo. “One would think that attending a Catholic school would drive me even further into the closet,” Valvo wrote in Outsports. “In fact it did the opposite. In my four years at Canisius I was exposed to a world I never got to experience at my rural high school. I met people who were openly gay and proud of it.”
Valvo graduates with his masters of sports administration from Canisius Wednesday. And Saturday, as graduate assistant in the college’s office of event services, he’ll be a part of the school’s broader graduation ceremonies. That’ll be his last day in event services before his new job begins Monday.
The commencement speaker when Valvo got his undergraduate degree in 2016 was Rev. James Martin, Jesuit priest and author of Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity. Martin wrote an email to USA TODAY that said one of the hallmarks of Jesuit education is care for the whole person — not just intellectual, emotional and physical development, but spiritual as well.
“And part of any student’s spiritual growth is coming to know that they are loved by God as who they are,” Martin wrote. “That includes LGBT students. It sounds like, while at Canisius, Alex learned the most important message of Jesuit education and indeed of Christian education: God loves you.”
As do his fellow officials. Valvo says he’s forever grateful they did not see him differently when he came out publicly.
“Nothing ever changed,” he says. “That’s exactly how I wanted it to be. All I care about is whether I’m a good official, and that’s all they care about.”
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