Gay athletes panel: Patrick Burke shares his late brother Brendan's positive coming-out story

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As Melanie Asmar's post about gay jokes at the Stock Show rodeo demonstrates, homophobia isn't exactly a thing of the past. But Patrick Burke, who's moderating "Invisible Athletes," a panel discussion about gay athletes at 6 p.m. tonight on the Denver University campus (details below), believes talking about the issue is a good way to change hearts and minds. His best example? The experiences of his late brother, Brendan.

Hockey is in the Burke family's DNA. Dad Brian is the general manager for the Toronto Maple Leafs and served in the same role for the U.S. hockey team at the 2010 Winter Olympics. Patrick is a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers. And Brendan skated for Miami University in Ohio -- and made international news thanks to a 2009 ESPN feature in which he publicly announced that he was gay.

Not that Brendan kept his sexual orientation a secret from those close to him. "He was already out to his hockey team, and he was already out to his friends and his family -- and he had been supported unanimously," Patrick says. "There were no issues with friends, no issues with his team. And because of that, he felt he was in a safe place, where his story might be used as an example for others who might not feel they were in such a safe place."

As for the public's response, Patrick says it was "almost universally positive. The only negatives were the type of anonymous Internet comments that aren't even worth discussing. My father spoke to everyone in the NHL on an executive level, and I spoke with everyone at the coaching and scouting level, and it was all positive."

Tragically, Brendan is no longer able to serve as a role model for the modern gay athlete. He died last February in an Indiana car crash caused by bad weather, Patrick says. But the Burke family remains devoted to spreading the message that homosexuality among athletes isn't something needs to be hidden.

"I think that's why we need forums like this one," Patrick maintains. "Most of the positivity we received was in private -- an e-mail someone sent to me, or having someone pull me aside in a press box. It's difficult to get thirty NHL general managers and a thousand hockey players to line up and say, 'We're okay with this.' So we need to have meaningful discussions such as this to let everyone know there are people in the sports world who are not homophobic and are completely supportive. Every time we get people to talk about this issue, it makes the hockey world safer for the next generation of gay athletes."

The DU panel goes beyond hockey. In addition to David Farber, onetime captain of the University of Pennsylvania hockey team, speakers include Andrew Goldstein, a former All-American goalie for the Dartmouth College lacrosse team, and Brandy Ranshaw, who was part of the U.S. Ski Team and a qualifier on the women's pro circuit.

Patrick expects the conversation to be fascinating.

"I think for people in the Denver community who are either sports fans or have friends who are gay or who are just curious about the issue, this is going to be a very interesting forum," he says. "I think it's going to be fun and educational -- and do a lot of good."

The event takes place at the Driscoll Ballroom, in DU's Driscoll Student Center, 2055 E. Evans, Denver, Colorado. Click here for more details. Here's the flyer:

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