2012 Hero: Brian Burke
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2012 Hero: Brian Burke

Nominated for: making it his mission to combat homophobia.

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains: the very best and very worst people, places, things, and ideas that have had an influence on the city over the past 12 months. From December 10 to 19, we’ll unveil the nominees, grouped by category. Vote for your favourites from each batch, every single day! On December 19 and 20 the winners from each category go head-to-head in the final round of voting, and on December 21, we will reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

In 2009, Brendan Burke, the youngest of Maple Leafs president Brian Burke’s boys, publicly came out as gay. Heavily involved in sports—in addition to having a famous “hockey dad” he was the student manager of Miami University’s RedHawks hockey team—his announcement made major headlines. Brendan became an advocate for fighting homophobia in sports, and has often been cited as a catalyst for starting more frank conversations about that issue. Tragically, that work was cut short when Brendan was killed in a car accident in 2010. He was 21.

Following his death, Brian Burke continued the work his son had bravely begun. In 2007, when Burke first learned that his son was gay, he gave him some advice: Keep your head on swivel. Burke had concerns about Brendan’s safety, thinking specifically of Matthew Shepard, an American student who was tortured and killed in an anti-gay hate crime. To have to give his son this advice was sickening to Burke, and fighting this form of horrendous intolerance became his mission.

Today, Burke remains focused on combating homophobia in sports, and in promoting LGBTQ rights more widely. He has been a public supporter of, and participant in, Pride Toronto; an involved advisor on his son Patrick’s You Can Play project, an advocacy program focusing on changing homophobia in sports; and was recently the co-chair of Covenant House’s Sleep Out for Street Kids Executive Edition, because a significant percentage of homeless youth are members of the LGBTQ community. This year he was recognized for this work with an Ally Award from Toronto PFLAG.

Burke insists it’s what any parent would do for their children. Though he claims he is not a hero, we have to respectfully disagree. By ensuring that Brendan’s legacy can carry on after his death, Brian Burke is helping ensure that more than a few lives can be lived in the greatest of ways: openly and honestly.

See the other nominees in the Advocates category:

The Toronto Marlies

Standing up for athletes of all orientations.
  Cheri DiNovo

Championing trans rights.
  Stephanie Guthrie

Making public space—on and offline—safer for everyone.

  Jude MacDonald and Paul Magder

Holding the mayor to account

Cast Your Ballot