Northeast hockey player Mia Brown is looking to inspire this Pride month

It’s not every day that a friend comes along and changes your life. But for friends of Mia Brown, that’s exactly the kind of influence she had.

“After they kind of found their way and found out who they are…they came back to me and said, ‘You’ve helped me so much. Thanks for that,” Brown said. “And that means a lot.”

A fifth-grade communications major and forward for Northeastern’s women’s hockey team, Brown has taken on several leadership roles while in college. This Pride Month, she’s being recognized for a different kind of leadership: her advocacy as a member of the LGBTQ community.

Long before becoming a lawyer herself, however, Brown looked up to others as she grew up and pursued her hockey career.

Brown comes from Woodstock, Vermont, a “small tourist town” near Dartmouth College that attracts visitors who want to see the leaves change each fall. His family is athletic, but not hockey: alpine skiing was the chosen family sport and his mother was once part of the American national team.

“And then we moved towns, and they had a skating rink,” she said. She tried hockey and for a time played while skiing.

When Brown was 10, it was no longer possible for her to go straight from an alpine ski race to a hockey game, so she was forced to choose between her two winter sports.

“I chose hockey, she says, because I wanted to be part of a team.

Before she knew it, schools were recruiting Brown to play hockey. She decided to go with Northeastern in part because it was in a city and she wanted a change from the environment she grew up in.

Growing up, she looked up to her cousins, who were also athletes, but the players of the United States Women’s National Soccer Team also hold a special place in her heart.

“They do so much for equality that it’s hard not to support them,” she said, referring in part to the team’s push for equal pay. Visible female athletes like Megan Rapinoe and Ashlyn Harris paved the way for LGBTQ athletes and, Brown said, it had a ripple effect on athletes at all levels.

Now she’s paying it forward, thanks in part to a hard-hitting article that surfaced on Northeastern’s athletics site. It all started a day earlier this month, when Brown was in “bad shape” with COVID-19. Illness prevented her from interning in the marketing department at Northeastern Athletics, but she asked her supervisor how she could contribute while working remotely. They said she could write a blog post about Pride Month, but it had to be finished that day.

“It took everything from me,” she said.

Brown was vulnerable in the articlewriting about what Pride month means to her as a queer person.

“Being a queer woman and an athlete gives me a lot of power because that’s my true and authentic self,” she wrote. “My individuality is what sets me apart from the status quo and, instead of being ashamed of it, I’m grateful for it.”

The response has been overwhelmingly positive, Brown said.

“I have had family, friends, former high school teachers and people who work here text and email me about this,” she said.

But it’s not a “coming out” moment for her — in fact, she said she doesn’t really have one.

“I showed up here as a freshman, and I wasn’t hidden or obvious,” she said.

She dislikes the term “coming out”, noting that “not everyone has to come out”. Instead, being a member of the LGBTQ community should be something increasingly normalized in society, she said.

Part of the reason Brown has been able to be so open at Northeastern is because of the supportive atmosphere. She’s had to deal with jokes and microaggressions in the past, which is far from trivial, she said. But with her hockey team at Northeastern, she said: “There wasn’t a second that I felt different, or felt like I didn’t belong or wasn’t accepted, which I’m very grateful.”

Now she serves as an informal mentor for friends and teammates working on self-discovery. Plus, she says, those same friends came to her later and told her she had helped them.

“It means a lot because without those people who helped me when I was in their position, I wouldn’t be able to help those people who follow me now,” she said.

She views her advocacy as part of the bigger goal of Pride Month — to normalize being a member of the LGBTQ community.

“I want Pride to be something that can be celebrated all year round,” she said. “But having that designated time is good.”

It’s important, she said, to reflect on how far the United States has come with LGBTQ issues and how far it still has to go, and to have conversations and reflect. “Maybe one day it won’t be [be important] because it will be so normalized,” she said.

Looking ahead, Brown plans to use her extra year of eligibility to continue as a forward for Northeastern’s women’s hockey team next winter. She’s excited to be the team’s assistant captain this year and helping lead a new group of freshmen after many teammates graduate. After leaving Northeastern, she could go to Europe to play hockey.

Professionally, she plans to get a master’s degree in organizational leadership and will continue as an intern in the marketing department of Northeastern Athletics. Brown is excited about all the opportunities that will open up to her once she graduates.

Wherever she ends up, however, she will continue to inspire the next generation.

“We owe it to our younger generations to continue to lead the way,” she wrote, “and lay the groundwork for them to feel good about themselves and our society.”

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Catherine J. Martinez