The NHL team’s president of hockey operations was the guest speaker at a fundraiser for the Calgary Sexual Health Centre’s WiseGuyz program.
The program teaches Grade 9 boys about human rights, gender equality and healthy relationships and aims to stop bullying and homophobia.
"During my high school days you didn't dare admit you were gay. It could mean your life if you did,” Burke said at the event, which was emceed by the CBC’s Doug Dirks.
In November 2009, Burke’s son Brendan made headlines when he announced he was gay and talked about the challenges of playing sports growing up while coming to terms with being gay.
At the time, he was the manager of the hockey team at Miami University in Ohio. Three months later, Brendan was killed in a car accident in Indiana.
Burke’s other son Patrick helped found You Can Play, an advocacy program to combat homophobic attitudes in sports dressing rooms. Burke senior has been an outspoken proponent for the project.
"My son Brendan has inspired me to take up this work. So I thank him for that,” he said.
It's getting better, Jon Cornish says
Burke was introduced at the event by Calgary Stampeders starting running back Jon Cornish.
Cornish said the Stamps’ locker room has changed dramatically for the better in the years he has been with the team.
“When I came in I noticed words being used that I really didn’t identify with, I didn’t like, you know, having having my mom be married to a woman, I’ve just come to understand that there’s certain words that shouldn’t be used,” he said.
“I just started saying stuff. So over the last four or five years, I’ve really spoken up whenever I have heard it in the locker room, and I think our locker room is now a much more accepting place.”
Burke said aside from practising acceptance and combating bullying, people should take active steps like joining PFLAG — a national organization that helps with issues of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
Proceeds from the Calgary event will go the Calgary Sexual Health Centre’s WiseGuyz program. During the event, Burke announced a $5,000 sponsorship from the Flames.